Tag Archives: chastity

Virtuous Sex

14 Jul

One of the common objections we hear to using Natural Family Planning (“NFP”) is, “I want to be able to have sex whenever I want to, and the birth control pill allows me to do that.”

The desire to be “one-flesh” with one’s spouse is understandable and even noble. In fact, God has attached the greatest of pleasure to sexual union because He wants married couples to engage in this most intimate of conversations. It may sound scandalous, but God truly desires that husbands and wives make love, and it brings Him great joy when they do so, provided their coming together is serving to bring them closer together and not driving them apart.

Given a choice, my four-year old daughter Maggie would have ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Most reasonable parents would never in a million years let their children have ice cream as their main food source. While Libby and I are not perfect parents by any stretch of the imagination, we are “reasonable parents” in this area. Maggie eats foods other than ice cream much to her disappointment. I hope she will thank us later. Everyone agrees that eating whatever you want and whenever you want will not make you happy in the long run.  Ice cream can be a most enjoyable dessert on the appropriate occasion. It takes discipline to discover the right time and place to enjoy this delicious treat.

Just as ice cream should be enjoyed at the right times and for its intended purpose, so should the sexual union of husband and wife. Sexual union is not intended to be an “on demand” feature of the married relationship. Unfortunately, our culture has developed an “on demand” mentality for all sorts of things: music on Spotify, movies on Netflix, television shows on the DVR, and Google with information.  The pervasive “on demand” thread of the culture can penetrate the fabric of the married relationship. Contraception fosters the “on demand” mindset because its underlying assumption is that “sex is just another activity that my wife and I do, and therefore, we should be able to do it whenever we want.”

Much like my daughter, Maggie, is being shortsighted when she wants ice cream at every meal, “on demand” sex is not good for the health of a marriage. The truth is that sex is not just another activity, but it is the most intimate of conversations that involves the entirety of the spouses; it is a total gift of self. An “on demand” attitude reduces the meaning of sex to self-gratification.

NFP fosters the necessary virtues that help couples realize the true gift of the marital embrace. The fostering of virtue is the fourth reason why St. John Paul II believed that NFP is different from contraception.  With NFP, the couple has the opportunity each month through conversation with God and each other to ask the question, “Is this the right time to come together?” NFP allows the couple to know the woman’s fertility, and therefore, if the couple has discerned that it is not the right time to have a child, then they abstain from the sexual union during the fertile time. If they have discerned that it may be the right time to bring a child into the world, then they come together during the fertile time.

NFP maintains the proper respect for the dignity of the spouse because it allows the couple to maintain the discipline of coming together when the couple has mutually agreed  to do so. In other words, sometimes the couple has to say “no.” Contrary to pop culture’s belief, saying “no” is possible, and even good under some circumstances, as it communicates to the spouse, “You are worth waiting for!”

I’m certainly not saying that couples should limit their sexual union unnecessarily, but NFP does open the couple to the possibility of saying “no” for the good of the other.  JPII was convinced that NFP helps build the character of the couple and in particular helps spouses grow in self-mastery.  Why was self-mastery so important to him?

Because self-mastery leads to greater freedom! In the eyes of the world, freedom is doing whatever you want whenever you want, but true freedom lies in the ability to do what is good. When a husband learns to temper his desires for sexual union because his wife is unable to come together, JPII would say he grows in possession of himself. Only when one possesses himself can he make a true gift of himself out of love.

Think about it in these terms: I can only give something I possess; I can’t give what I don’t have. NFP teaches me as a husband to always think and do what is best for my wife. It makes me a better man. If I am unable to say no to a sexual urge, then am I truly a free man? Only slaves and addicts are unable to say no.

And if I am unable to say no, what does my “yes” really mean?

Contraception leads a couple down the road of slavery and addiction where they are not free to focus on what is good for the other. Instead, it builds a culture of instant gratification within the relationship.

Our culture rightly puts a high premium on freedom, but we must be careful as to how we define this important word. Fortunately, we do not have to settle for a counterfeit version of freedom. JPII invites married couples to embrace the fullness of genuine freedom offered by NFP—a freedom expressed in mutual, sacrificial love that seeks the true good of our spouse.

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.

Preaching on Pornography

28 Aug

The following guest post is by Deacon Mike Schreck from Church of the Nativity parish. This post originally appeared on the website of My House Initiative, a dynamic outreach of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

Earlier this year, after attending an information session on the dangers of Internet pornography, and especially the resources now available to those who struggle in this area, I felt the Holy Spirit tugging at my heart to preach on pornography. I am a husband and father of four, and also serve as a permanent deacon within the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. I usually preach a couple times a month, and in looking ahead at my preaching schedule, I noticed that I was scheduled to preach on the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time. In the Lectionary for that weekend, Matthew’s Gospel includes Jesus’ admonition that someone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt. 5:17-37), as well as the prophet Sirach’s encouragement that we can keep the Commandments (Sir. 15:15-20). Although I was naturally hesitant to preach on such a sensitive topic in front of men, women and children of all ages at a weekend Mass, in my heart I knew that was exactly what the Holy Spirit was calling me to do.

I knew that I needed to warn our parish families about the dangers of Internet pornography, but also that the primary focus of my preaching would be sharing the Good News of hope that is available to those who struggle with pornography. As missionary disciples, we must never condemn the sinner, but we must not shy away from sharing words of hope and encouragement to those who struggle with sin in this or other areas. With so many people of all ages struggling with Internet pornography, and the devastating affects that I know it is having on parishioners’ lives and their marriages, I knew that God was calling me to share the Good News that there is hope and that there are new avenues of support and encouragement now available to those who struggle in this area. And yet, I wasn’t sure how to go about crafting my message of hope on such a sensitive topic.

As I wouldn’t be preaching for another two weeks, I prayed about it a lot! But I didn’t stop there. I also sought input from my brother deacons, from Sam Meier, who coordinates the Archdiocese’s My House Initiative, and from other friends and family members. I ran through a couple drafts of my homily with my unofficial team of trusted advisors, who for the most part encouraged me and gave me good feedback, including recommendations on points I might want to include in my homily. And then, one weeknight while praying in the Church after work, I ran into a friend, who has young children of his own. I approached him and explained my plan to preach on pornography. My friend expressed his admiration that I would tackle such a difficult subject and his belief that there is a need for such preaching, but he also expressed concerns regarding the sensitivity of preaching on such a sensitive topic in front of young children, and of course their parents.

After reading through a draft copy of my homily, he stated that he really appreciated the positive manner in which I was tackling the subject, and he shared with me that he is actually a Covenant Eyes Accountability Partner for one of his relatives and several of his friends, one of whom had actually lost his job as a result of viewing pornography at work. With that being said, he also recommended that I not use the word “pornography” so much, but after mentioning pornography at the beginning of the homily, use references such as “viewing explicit images” or “visiting inappropriate websites” throughout the rest of the homily.

Making this change probably made the homily easier for parents of young children to hear, but it definitely made the homily easier for me to preach as I practiced it with my wife and children, and when I then preached the homily at four of the Church of the Nativity’s five Masses that weekend. The congregation’s response to the homily was pretty amazing. I am used to parishioners sharing words of appreciation and encouragement as they depart, but more than any Mass before or since that weekend, I was struck by the depth of appreciation expressed by a large number of parishioners that waited to come over and shake my hand, express their appreciation, and request copies of my homily to share with friends and family members. Most of these parishioners were men, but I received positive feedback from a number of mothers and wives as well. One parishioner was almost in tears as she asked for a copy of my homily that she might take and share with her husband at home. For weeks afterward, I ran into parishioners in a variety of settings, who thanked me for my homily or asked that I e-mail them a copy that they could share with others.

I was hesitant to take on such a delicate topic, but with the support and encouragement of others, I followed the promptings of the Holy Spirit to share the Good News of hope to those who struggle with pornography. With so many men, women and children struggling with Internet pornography and pornographic novels, there is a need for more clergy to share the Good News of hope to those who are struggling. In the words of the prophet Sirach, “You can keep the Commandments.” With God, all things are possible.

Here is the text of Deacon Schreck’s inspiring homily.

Vatican II on Fostering Religious Vocations

3 Jun

religious sistersIn paragraph 24 of Vatican II’s Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life (Perfectae Caritatis, 1965), we find this summary of what we might call ”vocation ministry”:

“Priests and Christian educators should make serious efforts to foster religious vocations, thereby increasing the strength of the Church, corresponding to its needs. These candidates should be suitably and carefully chosen. In ordinary preaching, the life of the evangelical counsels and the religious state should be treated more frequently. Parents, too, should nurture and protect religious vocations in their children by instilling Christian virtue in their hearts.

“Religious communities have the right to make themselves known in order to foster vocations and seek candidates. In doing this, however, they should observe the norms laid down by the Holy See and the local Ordinary.

“Religious should remember there is no better way than their own example to commend their institutes and gain candidates for the religious life.”

Three things jumped off the page to me when I recently reread this document:

(1) Vatican II encourages more preaching on the evangelical counsels and the religious state, yet how often do we hear anything from the pulpit on the splendor of consecrated life?

(2) Parents not only nurture but protect their children’s vocations by instilling Christian virtue. One wonders how many religious vocations have been lost by parents’ failure to foster Christian virtue in the home through their own words and actions, and through the appropriate exercise of discipline.

(3) Religious have the right to promote their community, but in the end the most effective means of attracting young men and women is through their own personal witness of lives completely and joyfully given to the Lord.

Jumping Through Hoops

14 May

Jason CollinsLast week journeyman NBA player Jason Collins became the first openly gay athlete to play on a major men’s U.S. sports team. His “coming out” became the lead story on ESPN and other sports media, and it was generally celebrated as a historic event for the advancement of our culture, much like Jackie Robinson’s breaking the color barrier in baseball over a half-century ago.

One expects diverse, uninformed opinions on talk radio and in the blogosphere. Still, it seems that even much of the more dignified commentary is off the mark. For that reason, I thought I would offer a “top ten” list of my initial reactions to Collins’ announcement, realizing that all these points barely scratch the surface of this momentous societal issue.

(1) Play Ball Let’s start by saying that nobody, including the Catholic Church, is claiming that Jason Collins or other publicly “gay” athletes should not be allowed to compete on professional sports teams. Public acceptance of homosexual liaisons does have negative repercussions, but surely those with same-sex attractions must be treated with love and compassion. It would be unjust discrimination to bar them from pursuing their livelihood (cf. Catechism, no. 2358).

So let’s be clear—Collins’ announcement has nothing to do with his ability to earn his living, but everything to do with the advancement of a social agenda that is at loggerheads with Christianity.

(2) Is He a Hero? There are well over 60 million Catholics in this country whose professed faith–rooted both in Scripture and the natural law (cf. Catechism, nos. 1954-60, 2036, 2357)—teaches that homosexual acts are serious sins. This view of homosexuality is shared by tens of millions of other Christians, as well as many who have arrived at their conclusion based on their perception of reality (cf. Rom. 1:18-32).

One can appreciate a certain level of honesty and even courage in Collins’ announcement, but Christians justifiably recoil at the suggestion that Collins is now some sort of hero or pioneer in a positive sense.  The true heroes are those who quietly struggle perhaps a lifetime to control their disordered passions.

(3) National Conversation? Many news outlets talk a good game about the “national conversation” that Jason Collins’ announcement has produced, as if now we can finally have a free exchange of ideas and viewpoints on this subject. So, in the midst of such a discussion on ESPN, pro basketball commentator Chris Broussard said, “I’m a Christian. I don’t agree with homosexuality. I think it’s a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is.”

A Catholic would do well to express his or her position so succinctly and articulately. Yet Broussard’s comments were unwanted (Google “Chris Broussard Jason Collins” for a sampling of the reaction). ESPN offered its regrets that his personal viewpoint was a “distraction,” and reiterated that “ESPN is fully committed to diversity and welcomes Jason Collins’ announcement.”

In other words, ESPN is fully on board with the gay agenda, and does not welcome other points of view. Beyond the chilling effect of ESPN’s reaction to one of its own, we see the network’s duplicity in purporting to be open to an exchange of ideas on the subject.

(4) Is It Right? The larger problem here is that our culture has relegated the moral law to the level of private opinion. (And especially in the area of sexuality, please keep your opinions to yourself.)

Therefore, anything that isn’t a crime in the government’s eyes must be tolerated in the name of “diversity” or a distorted understanding of “liberty.”  And in the name of tolerance the media will not tolerate any discussion as to whether it’s “good” to act upon one’s same-sex attraction, whether it’s “good” to identify oneself by one’s sexual preference, and whether it’s “good” to seek (and give!) public approval to behavior that the vast majority of peoples and cultures throughout human history has considered unacceptable.

(5) We’re Compromised The Collins announcement is just one more case-in-point that our sex-obsessed culture is compromised when it comes to sexual morality. If we as a people are willing to turn a blind eye to our nation’s pornography addiction, not to mention our society’s acceptance of the widest range of “heterosexual sins,” then it’s not surprising that many people do not feel as though they can do anything but go along with the gay agenda.

After all, if we were to acknowledge moral standards, we’d be obliged to do our best with God’s grace to live by them. I suspect many people are not ready to do that.

(6) What About Tebow? Ironically perhaps, about the same time Jason Collins made his announcement the New York Jets cut quarterback Tim Tebow. Neither Collins nor Tebow are elite players in their sport (though Tebow was elite during his collegiate career), but both find themselves immersed in media attention. Yet the coverage of Tebow, by all accounts a virtuous, openly Christian man, is mostly negative—and not just in terms of his deficiencies as an NFL quarterback. There is frequent mention of teams not wanting him because of the “media circus” caused in large part by his commitment to Jesus Christ.  Players and teams are free in their comments about not wanting someone like him in the locker room.

When it comes to Collins, however, the focus is simply on his being a good teammate. Players are not allowed to express any discomfort with having Collins on their team. We saw the same phenomenon at work before the Super Bowl, when 49er Chris Culliver was raked over the coals for saying that he would rather not have a “gay” teammate.

(7)  Private Lives We frequently hear that the Church and the State should stay out of the bedroom and not meddle in the “private lives” of consenting adults. Yet, Collins’ “private” sexual preference was all we heard about on the news last week. Those of us who like to watch sports with our children should be able to enjoy scores and highlights without the R-rated social commentary.

And yet, with due regard for the innocence of our children, marriage and sexuality indeed is a public matter, as marriages create families, which are the building blocks of a healthy society. That is why marriages are a matter of public and ecclesial record, with witnesses and lavish celebrations. And that is why the State and especially the Church exercise appropriate authority in this area.

(8) Not Born That Way The popular assumption, not corroborated by science or the leaders of the gay rights movement itself, is that homosexual men and women are irremediably “born that way.”

Same-sex attractions, like all disordered sexual attractions, can be strong and deep-seated. However, like all strong sexual desires, there’s an element of choice when it comes to working against or even healing this inclination versus embracing the “gay lifestyle.”

It’s interesting that when it comes to homosexuality at least, the secularists do not uphold the ability to “choose.” Yet following one’s sexual feelings no matter where they lead is a recipe for personal misery. Conversely, there are many Christians who have overcome same-sex attractions and have gone on to live joyful, chaste lives.

Further, as Archbishop Naumann masterfully described in a recent column in The Leaven, many young people in their formative years experience some confusion regarding their sexual identity and orientation. The public support and approval of homosexuality witnessed in Collins’ announcement could surely encourage young people at a pivotal time in their lives to enter a homosexual lifestyle that would threaten their physical, spiritual, and moral health.

(9) Uncivil Rights The Collins story vividly demonstrates that the media will portray those of us who stand up for sexual morality and the good of families and children in a negative light. We simply are on the wrong side of a civil rights issue. By (erroneously) presenting sexual preference as something that is genetically established at birth and unchangeable, gay activists have effectively duped much of the public into thinking that full acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle is an “equality” issue.

Deep down we know, as a matter of faith but also of reason and common sense, that God created us as “male and female,” not “gay and straight” (leaving aside, for a moment, the bisexual and transsexual communities). The biological complementarity of man and woman is unmistakably stamped on our bodies, but we’ve been guzzling the Kool-Aid for so long that we’re simply blinded to this reality.

(10) Absence of Moral Leadership Rather than offer any sort of moral leadership, our President and First Lady were among the first to applaud Jason Collins’ announcement and tell him “We’ve got your back.”

Now we see that Jason Collins and Michelle Obama will headline a May 29 Democratic fundraiser at the party’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Leadership Council gala event. Sadly, our government leaders are part of the problem, not part of the solution here.

Much more can and should be said about this, but those are some of the thoughts I’ve had recently. What was your reaction to Jason Collins’ announcement?

Who’s Hiding in the Closet Now? What Catholics Must Do to Combat the Homosexual Agenda

21 Mar

closetThere was a time not too long ago that we would speak of a sexually active homosexual man or woman’s “coming out of the closet.” Now, as I watch the news, hear about recent court decisions, or even read the comics, it seems that homosexuality has not only come out of the closet, but has invaded my living space. In fact, those who uphold traditional Judeo-Christian values are the ones ending up in the closet.

Intolerable Accommodations

In his book Against the Grain (Crossroad, 2008), author George Weigel, drawing upon the social teaching of Blessed John Paul II, writes:

“Freedom must be tethered to moral truth and ordered to human goodness if freedom is not to become self-cannibalizing. If there is only ‘my’ truth and ‘your’ truth, but nothing that we both recognize as ‘the’ truth, then we have no basis on which to settle our differences other than pragmatic accommodation; then, when pragmatic accommodation fails (as it must when the issue is grave enough), either I will impose my power on you or you will impose your power on me.”

It occurred to me that while this paragraph speaks more generally of what Pope Benedict famously dubbed the “tyranny of relativism,” it also provides particular insight into the long-term strategy of the “gay rights” movement. When in a position of relative weakness, the movement seeks acceptance and “pragmatic accommodation.” When in a position of greater strength, as is increasingly the case today, mere accommodation gives way to the imposition of power. Every step of the way, the objective moral law is not “the” truth, but merely an opinion to be condemned as homophobic hate speech. The tyranny of relativism preaches, but does not practice, “tolerance.”

What, then, are some of the societal forces that have helped the “gay rights” movement attain its current position of greater strength? Continue reading

Undivided Heart

25 Jan

religious sistersThe next document in our series on the documents of Vatican II is the 1965 Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life (Perfectae Caritatis). A few preliminary thoughts on this document:

(1) One blogger has noted that the document could really have benefited from having headings, and happily did the work for us. If you choose to read this document yourself during the “Year of Faith,” you might want to use these headings to help keep the “big picture” in mind.

(2) Some readers may not be disposed to reading this document, because they assume, based on the precipitous decline of religious life in the years immediately following Vatican II, that Vatican II must not have said anything worthwhile on the subject. This decline in religious vocations had several causes, but Perfectae Caritatis isn’t one of them. Some religious communities have struggled not only in keeping their numbers up, but even more importantly, in remaining faithful to their religious charism and to the Church. We see some of this playing out in the recent controversy involving some aging members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. However, the communities that have embraced the Church’s teaching in Perfectae Caritatis and Pope John Paul II’s follow-up document Vita Consecrata (“Consecrated Life”) tend to be the ones that are thriving in our time. Click here for one such example.

(3) In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) we have an overview of the various states in life in the Church. In some of these subsequent documents, specific members of the Church (e.g., laity, priests, bishops, etc.) are addressed. Perfectae Caritatis takes the broad teaching of Lumen Gentium and then focuses more specifically on consecrated life. This approach models for us the importance of viewing religious vocations from within the larger context of the Church.

I especially invite readers to consider this passage from section 12 of Perfectae Caritatis:

“The chastity ‘for the sake of the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt. 19:12) which religious profess should be counted an outstanding gift of grace. It frees the heart of man in a unique fashion (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-35) so that it may be more inflamed with love for God and for all men. Thus it not only symbolizes in a singular way the heavenly goods but also the most suitable means by which religious dedicate themselves with undivided heart to the service of God and the works of the apostolate. In this way they recall to the minds of all the faithful that wondrous marriage decreed by God and which is to be fully revealed in the future age in which the Church takes Christ as its only spouse.”

This idea of consecrated persons having an “undivided heart” is further amplified in two passages from Vita Consecrata, the 1995 apostolic exhortation of Pope John Paul II that reflects upon Vatican II’s teaching on consecrated life. The Holy Father magnificently sets forth the beauty and depth of loving God with an undivided heart:

First, from section 1:

“In every age there have been men and women who, obedient to the Father’s call and to the prompting of the Spirit, have chosen this special way of following Christ, in order to devote themselves to him with an ‘undivided’ heart (cf. 1 Cor. 7:34). Like the Apostles, they too have left everything behind in order to be with Christ and to put themselves, as he did, at the service of God and their brothers and sisters. In this way, through the many charisms of spiritual and apostolic life bestowed on them by the Holy Spirit, they have helped to make the mystery and mission of the Church shine forth, and in doing so have contributed to the renewal of society.”

Later, from section 21:

“The chastity of celibates and virgins, as a manifestation of dedication to God with an undivided heart (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-34), is a reflection of the infinite love which links the three Divine Persons in the mysterious depths of the life of the Trinity, the love to which the Incarnate Word bears witness even to the point of giving his life, the love ‘poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit’ (Rom. 5:5), which evokes a response of total love for God and the brethren.”

Praise God for the call to love and serve Him with an undivided heart! May many young men and women generously respond to this unique call!

For more information on this subject, I strongly recommend the Institute on Religious Life.

Catechesis on the Sixth and Ninth Commandments

5 Dec

Stone tabletsThis week we will treat the Sixth and Ninth Commandments together. First, we have the Sixth Commandment (Catechism, nos. 2331-2400):

You shall not commit adultery.

It is generally understood that this commandment applies not merely to adultery itself, but all misuses of one’s sexuality. Amidst a culture that is largely addicted to sex (see this amazing article by Dr. Peter Kreeft), this commandment calls us to reexamine how we understand the incredible gift of human sexuality.

The Ninth Commandment (Catechism, nos. 2514-33) provides:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.

As we shall see, this commandment forbids cultivating thoughts and desires that are connected to actions forbidden by the Sixth Commandment.

It’s easy to look at the Sixth Commandment simply from the standpoint of prohibited activities. But if we look just a little deeper, we will quickly see it’s all about fostering the virtue of chastity. It is a moral virtue requiring much effort, but at the same time it’s a gift of God and a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is expressed in our friendship with others.

Chastity is related to the cardinal virtue of temperance, in that it helps us to moderate our sexual passions according to reason and Christian morality. All men and women are called to chastity according to our state in life. Chastity is not the same as continence or celibacy, which entails refraining from sexual activity. Even married people with active, healthy sex lives are called to live chastely. Sex is not evil. In fact it’s more than good. It’s holy.

The “theology of the body” taught by Blessed John Paul II has helped us to understand the gift of human sexuality in a healthy, more holistic way that recognizes the complementarity (see Catechism, no. 372) of man and woman. Theology of the body helps us to understand our sexuality as a way of seeking the good of others rather than using them as objects. Continue reading