Why We Care About Marriage (Part 3)

26 Aug

As we discussed in the previous post, marriage is a sign of God as the eternal exchange of love before time began.  Marriage represents this truth because the husband and wife commit and give themselves as a gift to each other. The married couple images God as a communion of persons.  God’s wisdom in establishing marriage as a union between one man and one woman did not stop with signifying Him “as it was in the beginning.” Marriage also signifies God as He “is now.” We have come to experience and know God through time, and so this is the second aspect I would like to explore.

Marriage is a sign of God’s loving existence during time.  In fact, St. Paul reminds us that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent His son . . .” (Gal. 4:4).  Every sacramentally married couple is called to be a sign of Christ’s love for the Church.  By the way a married couple loves each other, they bear witness to the reality that God is a God who is passionately in love with His People, faithful to His promises, and generously merciful and life-giving.

In fact, this truth is at the core of the vows that the bride and groom exchange at the altar. The vows are what establish the sacrament. No vows, no sacrament. The couple has to promise to love each other in the same way that Christ loves the Church. If they are not willing to do that , then they do not become a sacrament.  Let’s look at those vows more intently.

If you have not been to a Catholic wedding recently, let me refresh your memory.  The priest or deacon who is officiating the wedding asks the couple three questions.  The couple is asked is they have come freely.  Next, the couple is asked if they promise to be faithful to one another, and finally, the couple is asked if they will be fruitful and receive children lovingly from God.  Freely, faithfully, and fruitfully are the three hallmarks of Christ’s love for the Church, so for Her part, the Church is doing its due diligence to make sure the couple is not being tricked in any way.  The Church is essentially asking the couple, “Do you want to be a sacrament?  Do you want to be a sign of Christ’s love for the Church?  If you do, we will proceed to the exchange of the vows.” Continue reading

The Lost Art of Hospitality

25 Aug

tim's articleHospitality is a lost art in the world today. Through fear, indifference, or just being too busy, we often overlook the simple needs of others right before our eyes. The world could use a little more hospitality. The Church offers a rich history of models of hospitality that may help us today–in our professions, homes, and parishes.

St. Benedict of Nursia (480-547) is often called the “founder of western monasticism.” In The Rule of Benedict, which still guides many contemporary religious communities, he instructed his followers to receive guests with deep, sincere love. His pastoral concern for visitors is rightly held up as an example for those in the hospitality industry and indeed for all Christians.

St. Benedict stressed the importance of  the reception of guests.  His rule outlines how he wants the monks to handle the arrival of pilgrims, the poor, and other guests to the monastery. He writes that “all guests who arrive should be received as if they were Christ.” St. Benedict exhorts his monks to follow the pattern of prayer and welcome, and then to wash their feet, give them food, and provide them a bed. Basic acts of service are essential to the art of hospitality, as they meet the physical needs of the pilgrim. The saintly monk knew that the higher spiritual journey must begin with prayer, but that practical human needs must be provided, or else the pilgrims journey will go awry. Once rested, satiated and clean, the guest can now more eagerly seek the Lord without encumbrance.  

Not just for hotels anymore

How can this 1,500 year-old practice be used in our world today? In our homes, parishes, and retreat centers!

The call to hospitality is part of Gods revelation for all families, found in both Scripture and Tradition. St. Paul exhorts the Romans to “welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom 15:7). His message to all Christians is nothing shorto of a universal call to hospitality–tapping into the welcoming grace that softens our evangelistic efforts and invites and comforts those in need. Christ accepts people as they are, loves them as they are, and invites them into deeper communion. This is our call as well.  

More Christian families need to find ways to welcome Christ in the stranger, the guest, and the pilgrim. As St. John Paul II stressed in Familiaris Consortio, his famous 1981 document on marriage and family: “In particular, note must be taken of the ever greater importance in our society of hospitality in all its forms, from opening the door of one’s home and still more of one’s heart to the pleas of one’s brothers and sisters.”

Opening the doors of our homes and hearts is the constant call from Paul of Tarsus, who heard that call from Christ Himself, to our contemporary Church leaders. Hospitality should simply flow from the living heart of a Christian who sees Jesus in all those people around him or her. The Christian family must not become a closed circle, any more than the Church can become a closed membership group. We are called to be open and “exercise hospitality” to all.  

One reason that hospitality has become something of a lost art in our world comes from the lack of understanding of how to practice it. Primarily, hospitality is not about the host, but about the guest. We ought not try to change the guest, but to accommodate our spaces for them. Thus, anticipating their needs accurately is essential to good service. Benedict identified this point as he assigned “suitably competent” brothers in the guest kitchen and “sensible people” whose hearts were “filled with the fear of God” to run the guesthouse. Those competent and sensible people can see the needs of their guests almost before they realize their own need.

Similarly, the sensible hostess of a Christian family can supply her guest with clean linens and towels (an obvious need) while now also supplying an extra power strip in the guestroom (a more recent need, with increased electronics). One gets better at hospitality with practice, as is the case with any other habit or virtue. Thus, the Christian family should seek to invite guests to dinner, to stay with them, and to pray with them. 

Open to the “circle of grace” 

Following the Rule of Benedict with regard to the reception of guests can enable the Christian family to remain open to the circle of grace that lies before them. As Abraham hosted the three angels at table in the Old Testament (cf. Gen. 18-19) and grace flowed from that encounter, so too can the modern family receive grace through hospitality.

In this context, reflecting deeply on the famous icon of the Trinity by Andrei Rublev, we can see that the three angels at Abrahams table form an “open circle”  that is at once complete and yet at the same time allows for the viewer to join. We are called to Eucharistic communion at that table. The icon serves as a window into the nature of the hospitality of both Abraham (whose generosity was repaid many times over, as father of many nations) and of God Himself. Therefore, divinized hospitality (magnanimous love for others) is the goal for Christian families, as it was for the monasteries of St. Benedicts day and age.  

This active disposition of generous openness is a distinctly intentional pro-life, pro-family stance. With the mentality that “theres always room for one more,” the Christian family can stand counter-culturally for life in every way, such as through their openness to Gods blessing of fertility, through natural birth, adoption, or foster care. With the mentality that “we always have a seat for a guest,” the Christian family can live out the call to open their doors, calling the stranger into communion, making them a stranger no longer.

This practice of generous service can then lead to the virtue of magnanimity, literally a “great-souled” effort to give generously, in the right way and at the right time, a holy hospitality that will “unknowingly entertain angels” (Heb. 13:2).

 

Why We Care About Marriage (Part 2)

17 Aug

glory be

In the previous post, I discussed how God used my own marriage to witness his love to the people around us. I outlined that my wife and I are by no means special in this call, but rather it is a call that we all have. It is with this reality of God wanting to “minister through your sacrament” that I wish to discuss the current marriage debate in our culture.  What is it about marriage that is so important to us Catholics?  It is not merely a matter of holding on to what we have always believed in, and that somehow we are locked into an archaic, arbitrary, and stagnant definition of marriage.  We believe so strongly in what marriage is because we believe so strongly in “why” marriage is.  Marriage points to something beyond the man and woman.  The committed love of the husband and wife is a sign of something greater than the man and woman.  Lost in the debate over the definition of marriage is this reality for Catholics, and perhaps this is the providential moment in history to clarify this beautiful reality.

When we say sacrament, one thing we mean is “opportunity to encounter Christ”.  Every sacrament is a sign of something greater.  In other words, a visible reality makes present an invisible reality.  With the Eucharist, the visible bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, and thus, the invisible God is made manifest, and we encounter Christ.  While the physical eyes see only bread and wine, the eyes of faith allow a follower of Christ to see and experience His mysterious presence.

With marriage, the man and the woman are also a sign.  They are the sacrament.  With physical eyes, one simply sees a couple pledged to one another for a mutual fulfillment of happiness, but eyes of faith allows one to see something beyond a happy couple.   So, what does the happy couple tangibly represent to a person who views life through the lens of faith?  What is the greater reality they represent?  Ultimately, they point us to the reality of God and His permanent, life giving love for His people.

Most Catholics are familiar with the “Glory Be” prayer.  It proclaims that we give glory to the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit,, “as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be”.  This prayer opens us to three distinct time periods, before time, during time, and after time.  If God created marriage to be the sign of His loving presence and reality, then it makes sense that marriage would point to these distinct aspects of God’s existence: before, during, and after time. These three time periods of God’s reality are the 3 aspects of the sign of marriage that I would like to explore.  Only with this understanding do the moral teachings of the Church make sense.  When we forget the roots of what and why God has created marriage to be, then the Church teachings on marriage and family seem arbitrary and exclusive.

First, marriage is a sign of God’s existence as a “Communion of Persons” before time began.   Before anything in the material or spiritual realm was created, God existed as an eternal exchange of love.  The eternal person of the Father so love the person of the Son, and in return, the Son so loved the Father that their love is a third person who we call the Holy Spirit.  We understand the Holy Spirit to be the love between the Father and the Son, and this eternal exchange was flowing before time began and before He created the new life of the human race and all of creation. (cf Jn 1:1-5) Marriage in the same way exists as the foundation of the family, and exists as a “communion of persons” before the relationship brings new life into the world.  The husband and wife through the gift of themselves expressed through intercourse participate in bringing new life into the world.  This is one of the ways that the communion of husband and wife is a sign of the Communion of the Trinity as eternal love.  Marriage is the sign that awakens us to the greater reality of God’s eternal exchange of love from before time began.

This aspect of the Sacrament of Matrimony sheds light on why the Church recommends to couples to not live together before the bond of matrimony exists and likewise to not engage in sexual intercourse before the bond exists.  Which comes first in the sacramental meaning of marriage, the family or the bond?  The bond forms the family, and when a couple lives together without the bond present, they are not being truthful with their actions and thus, are not being an accurate sign of the Trinity.  God created marriage to signify this reality, and when a couple is a counter sign, the Church is there to help them realize that they were created for more than simply a more convenient living situation.  The relationship of man and woman and its great potential is a sign of the dignity of man and woman, and the Church has the obligation to always protect human dignity even when it is unpopular.

The unfortunate thing is that the Church is falsely stereotyped as simply having its teachings on cohabitation and premarital sex for the purpose of ruining people’s fun, and thinking so little of sex.  The reality is that the Church thinks so highly of the couple and their sexual relationship that it wishes to help couples maximize their sexual relationship by living it out as it was intended in marriage.

When a couple either engages in sexual activity or has children outside of the bond of matrimony, they are communicating a false message about who God is.  Remember that God existed as a communion before he entered into the activity of producing life outside of Himself, and so the couple communicates falsely that God did not exist in this reality, but His creation of life is arbitrary and not rooted in an intentional plan of faithful love.

With that said, does every cohabitating couple know they are conveying a false message about who God is?  Absolutely not, most couples when they enter into a sexual relationship or move in together are trying to express the love they have for one another, and they simply do not know that they are falling short of what their relationship could be.  It is up to us who do know better to help them realize they were created for more and to not settle for a counterfeit version of love.  Mercy is the approach.  Let us who do know be heralds of God’s abundant mercy starting first with our own commitment to live  as a radical sign of God’s goodness through our own marriage.

I know that I never heard any of the beauty of God’s plan for marriage as I was growing up.  I heard a lot of people tell me that I should not have sex before marriage, but they never told me why other than it was a sin or that it broke a commandment.   Even God’s commandment is understood properly in the context of His plan from the beginning.  If we only say, “Don’t do it because it is a commandment.” We make God seem like an arbitrary dictator who is out to ruin our fun and that He is withholding something from us.  We fall victim to confirming the image of God that Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the garden.  The serpent convinced Adam and Eve that God was withholding happiness from them and that He could not be trusted.  If Adam and Eve fell prey to this false narrative and they were operating with a much higher intellect and will than we are after the Fall, then do we really think our own children will fare much better when society tells them the same false narrative about God withholding happiness from them?  It is incumbent on us to share the good news of God’s plan from the beginning and His desire to maximize our happiness that he has established the “rules” of marriage.

Like any good parent, God does not have His “rules” just to see how He can spoil His children’s happiness.  God wants to protect us and keep us from perpetuating the false narrative with the way we live our lives.  Truthfully, each of us is n advertisement for something by the way we live.  Some of us advertise for the baseball team or football team we cheer for by wearing their logos, some of us advertise for our favorite musical artist or television show by posting on Facebook.  These are relatively harmless in the grand scheme of things, but the daily choices we make concerning the way we live our lives makes a statement about who we are.  Let us be mindful of this reality, and choose to advertise for the true meaning of marriage by being a radical and passionate sign in marriage.

Why We Care About Marriage (Part 1)

12 Aug

bride-and-groom-768594_640June 28, 2003, was one of the most joyful and significant days of my life as it was the day I married my wife, Libby.

We were planning to work full-time together as youth ministers in the same large, suburban parish in the Twin Cities, and this was part of the excitement as we headed toward our wedding day. Our mindset was, “Not only will we be missionaries for Christ bringing the good news of His love to teens, but we will be doing it together as married missionaries!  What could be better?!”

During our engagement, like many couples marrying in the Church, we met several times with our pastor. I don’t remember everything he told us, but the one thing I do remember is his telling us that our most important ministry to the youth and other parishioners we were preparing to serve was the ministry of our marriage. We really didn’t have any idea what he meant at the time, even though we took him seriously.  We thought we would run some good programs for teens that would awaken them to their relationship with Christ. But as the first few years of our marriage and youth ministry unfolded, it became clear what our priest was trying to teach us.

Don’t get me wrong, we were qualified and competent youth ministers, but the greatest thing we ever did for our parish community was the witness of our married love for one another in the midst of great suffering. Libby and I faced the great trial of having two of our infant children pass away from a rare genetic disease. Both our son Peter and our daughter Gianna died when they were about three months old, about 18 months apart.  Our sacrament gave us access to limitless grace, and since grace is God’s life within us, it sustained us through that difficult time, giving us the strength to witness to God’s love in the midst of tremendous suffering.  We could not have imagined when we said, “I do,” nor would we have chosen, that our suffering would be the primary witness that Libby and I would proclaim, but yet it was the opportunity we had. Trial can often be the occasion for a wedge to form between couples, but our faith turned us to one another and to the Church in a deeper way than we imagined. Our suffering brought us closer together, and that closeness was a sign to all in the parish of our trust in God and one another.

Let me give a few examples.  Continue reading

What Can We Do?

30 Jul

Pope with EucharistEarly in my marriage, I got in the habit of leaving my wife “to do” lists before heading off to work. After a while, I started getting creative and playful with the lists. One time, for example, the final item on the list was “Do something you enjoy.” Upon reading that item, she immediately wadded up the list and with obvious enjoyment tossed it in the wastebasket!

In the Gospel this coming Sunday, the gathered crowd asks Jesus, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” (Jn. 6:28). This is a very natural question. However, it does betray a “to do list” mentality. What tasks do we need to do to please God and accomplish His will on earth? Armed with such a list, we can start checking off items one by one.

Yet, in reply the Lord did not give us a laundry list of tasks, though surely there is much to do when it comes to evangelizing our world today. Rather, He replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent” (Jn. 6:29). Of course, that is true, as without the Lord we can do nothing. We would be like branches disconnected from the life-giving vine, unable to bear fruit.

But even more, I think Our Lord is pointing to the primary importance of interiority, of developing a close personal relationship with Him in prayer and seeing in that relationship the vital source of living effective Christian lives. He is teaching us that who we are as children of God and beloved companions of the Lord Jesus is more important than what we do.

Interestingly, yesterday we celebrated the feast of St. Martha. As Catholics, we try to balance in our lives of faith the active Martha and the contemplative Mary. Sometimes in the process Martha gets a bad rap. She’s anxious and worried about many things (Lk. 10:41), so at times we might picture her as a frantic busybody flitting about, doing everything on the to do list, while the serene Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, believing in “the one he sent.”

May we imitate the faith of St. Martha, who said, “I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Jn. 11:27). And, like St. Martha, we should express our faith in active works of charity, especially with regard to the poor.

As we do so, however, we must keep in mind the clear teaching of Scripture. Our Lord said that Mary chose the better part, the one necessary thing (Lk. 10:42). Our Lord is truly present at every Mass and in every tabernacle throughout the world. If we truly desire to be saints, to become the holy men and women God calls us to be, we do well–frequently and with much love and devotion–to return to the Source: Jesus, Our Eucharistic Lord, the center of our faith. Not surprisingly, to follow up on His comment on doing the “works of God,” Jesus is about to embark upon His beautiful discourse on the Eucharist, which we will hear in the coming weeks.

Homosexuality and the Catholic Church…

22 Jul

Mackelmore Rainbow triangleWe can’t change, Even if we tried, Even if we wanted to

I am sure I’ll never forget where I was when I learned that the Supreme Court mandated that same-sex “marriage” was now the law of the land. I was driving to work when I heard Macklemore’s rap song, Same Love. It is that idolized pop song with the infectious hook sung by Mary Lambert, “I can’t change, even if I tried, even if I wanted to.” I thought it strange the playing of a so-last year song, so I flipped to NPR and sure enough they announced, “Supreme Court Declares Same-Sex Marriage Legal in All 50 States”. I realized that Obergefell v. Hodges is now my generation’s Roe v. Wade.

I lamented that nothing is going to be the same after this. What followed astonished me, a rainbow flag affirmation campaign that Kodachromed almost half my Facebook friends. Many of these rainbows were on Catholics from across the country and some even taught at Catholic schools. A significant number of Catholics approve of same-sex “marriage” and they think the Church should and someday will officially recognize and bless lesbian and gay sexual unions as the equivalent of man and woman marriage. These Catholics think their Church teaching on sexual morality can change. They think their Church will change. Ironically those who believe it is wrong to compel someone with same-sex attraction to change are trying to compel their Church to change.  While Catholic pastoral practice, the way we treat people who self-identify as gay and lesbian can and will likely change, Catholic teaching on the inherent immorality of homosexual sex will never ever change, because it can’t.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued in 2003 a great document for every Catholic to review on the question of legalizing same-sex unions called: Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons . They sum up the Church’s teaching on the nature of marriage in the second paragraph: “The Church’s teaching on marriage and on the complementarity of the sexes reiterates a truth that is evident to right reason and recognized as such by all the major cultures of the world. Marriage is not just any relationship between human beings. It was established by the Creator with its own nature, essential properties and purpose. No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman, who by mutual personal gift, proper and exclusive to themselves, tend toward the communion of their persons. In this way, they mutually perfect each other, in order to cooperate with God in the procreation and upbringing of new human lives.” Furthermore Pope Benedict taught that certain issues are NOT NEGOTIABLE and among the defence of life from conception to natural death he included: “recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family – as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage – and its defence from attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different forms of union which in reality harm it and contribute to its destabilization, obscuring its particular character and its irreplaceable social role”. Popes often clarify the teachings of their predecessors in teaching the Faith but they never directly contradict. The media often spins Francis’ charitable remark of “who am I to judge?” as a sign that the Pope will contradict 2,000 years of moral teaching. Such a false hope confuses Catholics and the public because of a failure to understand that like Lambert’s sirenic voice chants Church teaching can’t change, even if Francis wanted it to.

Rainbow tinted Catholics who celebrate the legalization of same-sex marriage really need to reflect upon the Catholic faith they purport to have. Each week as Catholics we each solemnly proclaim, “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” To be an apostolic Church means you believe in the teachings of the Popes and the Bishops in union with them on matters of Faith and Morals, and that those teachings are never going to essentially contradict themselves across time. Pope Francis cannot proclaim that homosexual acts are good and admit same-sex couples into the holy sacrament of matrimony any more than he could add another person to the Trinity (even if he wanted to add the Virgin Mary). As Catholics we hold a radical belief. The belief that God became man in the person of Jesus Christ and that he established a Church with a perfect deposit of faith that cannot be amended. To deny this Church’s teachings is to that extent to deny Christ. With this Church he left a special gift of his Holy Spirit that the Pope and the bishops in union with him cannot teach error to the faithful regarding faith and morals. Since the Church for so long has clearly taught that homosexual acts (not people) are wrong, the Church cannot now bless or condone these acts. If as a Catholic you think the Church should change its core teaching on homosexuality, you will literally have to wait an eternity for this to happen.

So rather than frustrate your salvation and confound your parish family, what is a rainbow Catholic to do? Should you just leave? Oh Heavens no, please don’t jeopardize your salvation by jumping off the ark. However, now is the time for a serious revaluation of your Faith? Rather than subversively wait for the Church to become as “enlightened” as you and the church of what’s happening now, you should actively wait on the LORD and take this contradiction to God in study and prayer. The Catholic Church does not want us to be unquestioning robots that follow orders but rather actively engaged believers whose faith always seeks understanding. If you think the Church is wrong because you want to affirm your “gay” friends and relatives fine, but don’t just sit there, start wrestling with the angels. Start to question why you believe what you do and why the Church teaches what she teaches. One beautifully elegant question that is guaranteed to open you up to the guidance of the Holy Spirit is, “If the Catholic Church turned out to be right, how is that it could be true?” Study and pray till you see how you can stay and still be the person of integrity that God calls you to be. As Catholics we are not members of a club, we are disciples of Jesus Christ with his Catholic Church as our guide. Discipleship takes discipline and let’s be honest, this is hard. A faith that never engages a difficult teaching is not much of a faith at all.

So Catholics in our quest to not appear homophobic let’s not become Christophobic by outright rejection of the teachings of our Church. Macklemore is right that “If you preach hate at the service, those words aren’t anointed. That holy water that you soak in has been poisoned “. However, how hateful is it to tell a lie to someone who wants to be lied to by confirming that person into a sinful practice. If the homosexual act is really a sin then we are loving no one by its encouragement. For, “when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.” (James 1:15) As Catholics we must seek and preach the truth in love or then we really do risk poisoning our holy water.

 

 

To Know or Not to Know?

21 Jul

On January 21, 2005, my wife and I left St. Joseph’s hospital in St. Paul, MN with our newborn son, Isaac. The adventure was about to begin both literally and figuratively. Literally, we were venturing out into a Minnesota snowstorm, and figuratively, we were venturing into the world of parenting. We survived the literal journey home and the jury is still out on whether we will survive the figurative one. I remember thinking when we left the hospital, “So . . . they are just going to let us take him home, eh?”

That question was a sign of the insecurity that Libby and I had about the world of parenting.

However, when we made it to our house, I remember turning on the stereo and listening to Frank Sinatra sing the song from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. The title of the song is “Soliloquy,” and it is all about a new father and his optimism, excitement, and pride for the future of a newborn son. As I danced around the living room holding my son and singing as loudly as I could to the blaring music, I could summarize my feelings as, “This fatherhood thing is new, but I like it!” In the midst of the chaos, I found a new confidence in myself and a desire to do whatever possible to sacrifice for the good of Libby and Isaac. I had a level of self-knowledge that I never had previously. My lived experience was matching up to St. John Paul II’s fifth reason for the difference between natural family planning (“NFP”) and contraception. Let me explain.

John Paul’s first few arguments for maintaining the integrity of the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act certainly make sense on a natural level, but he also argues that NFP is confirmed through divine Revelation. What does that have to do with my newfound confidence and self-knowledge? Specifically, John Paul points to Genesis 4:1, which is the passage where Adam comes to know his wife, Eve, and they conceive and bear a son. John Paul points out that this “knowing” is not merely a euphemism for having intercourse, but rather involves a much deeper knowledge of self and one’s spouse. It is exactly the kind of knowledge I experienced after we brought Isaac home.

To put it simply, a whole new level of who I am came alive when I became a father.

It is like opening a door to a room that I didn’t know existed. I opened the door, and I began to explore the wonder of the room.

Isaac’s birth also opened the door to see a whole new side of Libby. I saw my love for her deepen in a way that I didn’t know was possible. To use the same analogy, Isaac was the key that opened the door to a new room in Libby’s heart. I discovered her tender and gentle motherly compassion that never had an outlet before Isaac came into our lives.

The gift of parenting also opens our eyes to the knowledge of how important we are in God’s plans. We discover the dignity of being called to cooperate in the creation of new human life. We realize that when God commands Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply,” it is not just to populate the earth. Rather, it is one of the ways that God reveals the depth of His love for us. He commands us to do what is good for us and what we will find truly rewarding and joyful. John Paul cites this biblical passage to illustrate the importance of connecting sex and babies. NFP gives hopeful couples the great knowledge of how to maximize their fertility and conceive a child “with the help of the Lord” as Adam and Eve did.

When we disconnect sex from babies, it is too easy to miss the beauty of God’s goodness in both the conjugal act and the gift of children. We can take for granted and miss the tremendous blessing of both. The Church does not want anyone to miss the goodness of God, and that is the motive for all her teachings. Love for her children is the interpretive lens through which we should view any difficult teaching of the Church. The motivation is never, “I want to ruin someone’s fun.”

For me, I know that I always want people, especially my children, to give Libby the benefit of the doubt in everything. My default position is, “if they only knew Libby like I know Libby,” they would understand why she is doing or saying that.” Our kids don’t always accept it initially, but after they have time for her discipline to sink in, they realize that their mom loves them very much and is acting in their best interest. My spousal knowledge inclines me to assume the best in her.

The same principle is true of Christ and His spousal relationship to the Church. God wants all of His children to love the Church like He does and trust that she always has our eternal happiness in mind.

As I have tried to explain over the past few weeks, the Church certainly has good reasons for her support of NFP and for insisting that contraception is not good for a relationship. First, NFP allows a couple to speak a language of truth to one another through the language of the body. Second, NFP respects the great dignity that couples have as humans made in the image and likeness of God. Third, NFP allows a couple to respect their fertility as an integral part of who they are. Fourth, NFP builds the character of the couple who use it. Lastly, NFP is consistent with biblical Revelation.

Pope John Paul II spent much time in his early priesthood with young married couples. He was a keen observer of the many joyful marriages he witnessed. He once remarked that he “fell in love with human love.” Even though JPII was one of the most brilliant theologians and philosophers in the 2,000-year history of the Church, some of his greatest insights and contributions to the Church came from spending time falling in love with human love and witnessing firsthand the beautiful gift of married love lived well.

May we as the Church learn about authentic human love from JPII and not settle for a counterfeit version.

Guest columnist Brad DuPont is a consultant for the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. He credits Dr. John Grabowski’s talk at the 2014 Theology of the Body Congress, “Something Old, Something New: Tradition and Development of Doctrine in the Theology of the Body’s Teaching on Marriage” for inspiring this series of articles.

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