Tag Archives: contraception

Reasons to Believe

6 Apr

aaaa“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

“We must obey God rather than men.” St. Peter boldly proclaimed these words as he was questioned by the authorities 2,000 years ago. In a certain sense, not much has changed. Modern popes and faithful Catholics are asked frequently to deny Jesus or the teachings of His Church on so many issues, but especially when it comes to matters of marriage and family life, and we also have to say, “We must obey God rather than men.”

Mostly, confusion arises because the “why” of the Church’s teaching has never been explained well. Many are often unaware of the beauty that stands at the foundations of “controversial teachings” such as same-sex “marriage,” contraception, pornography, and divorce. It is important for us to understand the “why” of the Church’s teachings as much as the “what.”

For common sense explanations on Church teachings regarding marriage and family life, go to www.archkck.org/family. Then click on “defending marriage.”

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

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.

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.

R-e-s-p-e-c-t

7 Jul

My wife Libby and I were married in the summer of 2003. The following spring we settled into a new job, and we moved from our little one bedroom apartment and into our first house. We decided the time was right to attempt the parenting thing.

Because we had been practicing NFP, we knew how to maximize our opportunity for conceiving a child. It was scary and exhilarating at the same time. We didn’t know if we would be good parents or if we would even be able to conceive a child. Yet when we came together as husband and wife with the specific intention of conceiving a child, our marriage was deepened. The experience raised to a whole new level our respect for each other and our sense of awe at the greatness of God for His plan of sexual love. We discovered that our potential fertility was not merely an accidental part of the human experience, but rather expressed something amazing about us as persons made in the image and likeness of God.

“Wow, we are attempting to cooperate with the Creator of the universe in the creation of new life that will exist forever! Who are we that we should be able to do this?”!

For St. John Paul II, fertility is not accidental, but existential. It is an expression of the human person. To withhold or reject fertility is to withhold or reject the whole person. While fertility can be studied through biology, it is not simply biological. Rather, sex and fertility are at the core of our entire being.

For anyone who has suffered the cross of infertility or knows someone who suffers with this cross, John Paul’s perspective makes all the sense in the world. Very close friends of ours have carried the cross of infertility for a number of years. It is precisely because fertility is at their core that their suffering is so great. If fertility were merely accidental, it would not be so difficult. They long deeply to bring another child into this world as a reflection and permanent reminder of their married love. Their prayer is that they would have fertility to give to one another. They cannot imagine keeping it from the other.

As a parent, I feel a deep sadness when my son shares with me something that he does not like about himself. My daughter is only 4, and my prayer is that she always knows the truth of her beauty and goodness, especially when she reaches the teen years and is tempted to find flaws is the way she looks. To boil it down, contraception says, “I don’t like my fertility, and I don’t want to share it with you.” Our heavenly Father sees fertility as a beautiful part of who He created us to be. It saddens the Heart of God when we don’t appreciate how wonderfully made we are.

For John Paul, the difference between NFP and contraception involves two opposed concepts of the human person. Contraception views fertility as a disease, and therefore, must be suppressed. NFP views fertility as an integral part of the human person (see Familiaris Consortio, no. 32). Fertility is not something to be ashamed of or rejected, but joyfully embraced as a gift from God. NFP allows a couple to responsibly cooperate with the Creator in bringing forth new life. What an incredible dignity God bestows on us creatures in allowing us to participate in the creation of a person who will exist forever! NFP cultivates a respect for this human dignity not only toward our spouse, but also our children. The respect does not stop there, though. NFP cultivates a greater respect and appreciation for every human person, because it fosters the realization that every person is made in the image of God.

As we watch the evening news and see conflicts oversees and poverty on the rise here in the homeland, we are challenged to have a greater appreciation for human dignity. We may not be able to do extraordinary things to change the course of history on a large scale, but we can allow our own minds and hearts to be changed and softened toward our fellow humans. NFP is a path to foster mutual respect and soften us to see every person as our brother and sister.

Granted, it is a small step, but doesn’t the journey of a thousand miles begin with the first small step? It seems too simple and not drastic enough, but if we are not willing to change as Christians, how can we expect non-Christians to have a greater respect for their fellow humans? To this point, St. Ignatius of Loyola said, “He who goes about to reform the world must begin with himself.” Let’s increase the level of respect in our own families and neighborhoods and do our part to build a culture worthy of our great dignity.

These columns are being republished in preparation for NFP Awareness Week, July 19-26, 2015. For details on events for the week, visit http://www.archkck.org/family.

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.

What’s the Use?

30 Jun

marriage1In the last post, I recalled St. John Paul II’s first reason why natural family planning (“NFP”) differs from contraception. Namely, contraception speaks a “language” contrary to that of NFP. Contraception contradicts the “body language” of sexual union as a complete gift of self and a total reception of one’s spouse. Meanwhile, NFP speaks a language of openness to each other as husband and wife. With NFP, a total gift is given and received, which remains faithful to the language given in the marriage vows.

The second reason John Paul develops is similar, but he offers a further distinction based on his deep respect and understanding of human dignity. Because of their dignity as persons, men and women should never be used. The only proper response to a human person is love and acceptance. In the mind of the Holy Father, the opposite of love is “use,” not hate.

We understand this truth instinctively. Think about your reaction to a tragedy being exploited for political gain, or a family member performing acts of kindness simply to get written into the millionaire uncle’s will. Situations like these make us angry, because we perceive that persons should be accepted and loved not merely for what they can do or produce, but rather for being who they are. If this is true in ordinary human interactions, how much more should this principle apply to marriage, the most intimate of relationships?

Obviously, spouses do not set out to “use” one another through the marital act. However, because the conjugal act is supposed to be a complete gift of self, to make a partial gift or to receive a partial gift where one’s fertility is withheld or rejected is contrary to the full love and acceptance that one’s spouse deserves. A contracepted union is not a true union. It reduces the attempted union of husband and wife to a mere activity where each is using each other for a pleasurable goal.

Surely we’re not denying that the conjugal act is pleasurable. Yet, when it is divorced from the true union of the spouses, then it necessarily involves selfishly using each other. In other words, it places the focus on “what am I getting out of this” instead of “what can I give my beloved.” It’s beneath a person’s dignity to give only a partial gift of self or to receive only a partial gift. The contraceptive mentality reduces love from the unconditional love that we all desire to a conditional love or use, which is the opposite of love. Using each other is not in keeping with our human dignity.

The beauty of NFP is that it opens up spouses to a greater respect and understanding of each other. NFP allows for the total giving and receiving of the gift. Speaking as a man, I can honestly say that learning the ups and downs of how my wife’s body works has increased my respect for her and indeed, enhanced my respect for all women. I am in awe of how beautifully and wonderfully made women are. As I look out into the culture, it seems to me that there is a great lack of respect and understanding between men and women, and I wonder if that could be remedied somewhat if we were more open to the gift of NFP.

So why is fertility so integral to our human dignity? That will be explored in the next column.

These articles are running in preparation for NFP Awareness Week, July 19-26, 2015. For more information on activities celebrating this week, visit http://www.archkck.org/NFP

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.

Celebrating NFP

23 Jun

nfpNext month, on July 23rd, Archbishop Naumann will celebrate a Mass to commemorate the 47th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter Humanae Vitae. Yes, I said celebrate. Contrary to popular belief, the Church wishes to celebrate the encyclical that affirms the long-standing and beautiful teaching that the sexual love between a husband and wife is meant for two purposes, to unite the couple more profoundly and to have their love take flesh in the form of new life.

Many believed that Pope Paul VI would allow for artificial means of birth control, and many still believe he should have. Still, there are others who say that the Church does allow for contraception under the name of Natural Family Planning (“NFP”), but is this true? Is NFP simply “Catholic Contraception”?

Pope Paul VI believed there was a significant difference, and St. John Paul II, building on his predecessor’s teaching, articulated five main differences between NFP and contraception in his catechesis on human love in the divine plan that has come to be known as the theology of the body. Over the next few weeks I will explain each of these differences.

The first difference can be called the “linguistic argument.” In John Paul’s view of the human person, the body is not just a collection of cells that happens to be connected to an invisible soul. Rather, the body is what actually communicates and makes visible the soul. The body makes present the invisible mystery of a person’s maleness or femaleness, the two equal but different ways of existing as a human person. You might say that the body speaks a “language.”

We recognize this truth in so many ways. In fact, nonverbal communication is incredibly powerful and, often times, reveals the truth of a situation far more convincingly than verbal communication. Think of a child who tells his mom that everything is “fine,” but his body language communicates sadness through shrugged shoulders, a slumped posture, and a frown as big as a clown in face paint. Any good mother would not believe the empty verbal response of “fine” and but instead would believe what the rest of the body is communicating. We would say that the child’s body is revealing the truth of whole person.

Bodily gestures, like a kiss, communicate affection. This is why Jesus remarks to Judas that he is betraying the Son of Man with a kiss. A kiss is not meant to communicate betrayal and, in the case of Judas, is an ironic and false communication. In John Paul’s thought, body language can speak truths or falsehood in the same way that words do, so it is important to always speak the truth with our bodies. For John Paul, the conjugal act between a husband and wife says in a bodily way what the couple expressed in words at the altar on the day of their wedding. It is a renewal of their wedding vows each time the couple comes together to have this most “intimate conversation.”

In the wedding vows, the couple pledges to give the entirety of their lives to one another as a complete gift of self. The language of the marital act says the same thing, but through the language of the body.

With contraception, the language of the body goes from a language of giving everything to a language of withholding. What is withheld? When a couple contracepts, they say to each other, “I give you everything but my fertility.” Contraception makes the renewal of vows into a partial gift instead of the complete gift which was expressed at the altar.

Obviously, most couples who have contracepted did not intend to speak a language that contradicted their wedding vows. They most likely were a victim of the surrounding culture that offers contraception as the “only reasonable option.” Hopefully, this series of articles will dispel some of the myths about Natural Family Planning and allow couples to find a new hope and way to rejoice in the renewal of their wedding vows.

Many couples are changing the course of their marriage by reconsidering the choice of how to regulate births–and are looking into NFP as a reasonable option. If you have practiced NFP, chances are you know someone who has doubts about it. It is not always easy to have conversations about the beauty and gift that NFP can be to a marriage. Hopefully, this series of articles will better equip you to have meaningful conversations with friends and loved ones.

The truth is that NFP is a treasure that is waiting to be discovered and a source of good news for couples!

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.

The Creed, the Pill, and CUF

5 Nov

trufflehunterI recently read with much interest the first installment of Archbishop Naumann’s “call story” (Leaven, 11/1/13), which ends with our shepherd as a college student in the late 1960s, discerning the path he should take in life. Though we pretty much know how the story ends, it will be fascinating to read next week about how Our Lord led him from point A to point B.

The article made me recall my own experience of the 1960s, especially 1968, which sticks in my memory as a most significant year. I remember the year beginning with the Packers’ second straight Super Bowl victory and ending with Richard Nixon’s narrow victory over Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace (I was allowed to stay up late and watch the election coverage). I remember Bobby Kennedy being shot only a couple miles from my house and the rioting that accompanied the Democratic convention.

Mostly, though, I was a chubby third-grader at St. Elizabeth’s parish school, oblivious to most of what was going on in the world and in the Church. Whether I was playing kickball in the schoolyard or humming “Kumbaya” as I crafted nifty collages from magazine scraps, I was largely shielded from the cultural changes going on in our society, from the civil rights movement and Vietnam to Woodstock and women’s “liberation.”

These were mostly dark days for the Church. Today there’s the enthusiasm of the “new evangelization” and the great influx of converts. Back then, however, there were people jumping ship in unprecedented numbers. And not just priests and religious. All of us experienced the exodus of relatives and friends from the Church.

Yet, amidst the turmoil, three significant events occurred in 1968 that I think planted seeds of hope for future generations.

Rocking the Credo

The first event was the issuance of the Credo of the People of God by Pope Paul VI. The publication of new, official expressions of the Catholic faith is a rare occurrence. Further, Pope Paul’s Credo is much more detailed than the more familiar Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed.

Popes don’t issue documents such as this lightly or without a significant reason. In this case, Pope Paul VI saw the emerging crisis of faith in the West and tried to minimize its effects. In explaining why he was issuing his Credo, the Holy Father remarked that “many truths are being denied outright or made objects of controversy,” leading to “disturbance and doubt in many faithful souls.”

The Credo was issued at the conclusion of a “Year of Faith.” Hmmm.

I’ve heard references to the “missing generation” created by the millions of abortions in this country in recent decades. But the prior generation–those of us who were raised in the 1960s and 70s–is spiritually missing. A significant aspect of the new evangelization is to welcome this generation back into the Church. Pope Paul’s Credo, amplified 25 years later in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, reflects the Church’s renewed commitment in our day to proclaiming the person and teachings of Jesus Christ to our world.

Separate Lives

There’s the well-known Latin expression, “lex orandi, lex credendi,” which means that how we pray affects what we believe. I think we can further say, “lex credendi, lex vivendi,” because what we believe (or not believe) affects how we live.

And so, in addition to the millions of Catholics who have formally abandoned the faith over the past 40 years, there are countless others who in some fuzzy manner consider themselves Catholic, but who, as recent Popes have noted, are leading lives that are far removed from the Gospel.

We were rightly horrified by the revelation of sexual misconduct on the part of a handful of priests this past decade. But to be honest, the rest of us haven’t fared much better. In recent decades, Catholics have been fornicating, cohabitating, divorcing, contracepting, sterilizing, and aborting at a scandalously staggering rate. And the underlying loss of a sense of sin and grace–what we typically call “secularization”–has affected all aspects of human activity, from dwindling Sunday Mass attendance and Confession lines to a general decline in civility and solidarity among people. I’ve read dissident theologians who justify virtually any kind of behavior out of a mistaken understanding of conscience, and of course today pro-homosexual activists have experienced unprecedented success in their efforts to gain societal approval of unspeakably sinful behavior.

In the face of this enormous societal pressure, the Church–if she weren’t specially protected by the Holy Spirit–could easily cave in. Instead, she has steadfastly and compassionately proclaimed the timeless truths of our Christian faith and our human nature in response to the visceral demands of contemporary society.

Perhaps the most significant case in point of the Church’s fidelity is the issuance of Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI in 1968, in which the Holy Father reiterated the Church’s constant teaching on the immorality of artificial birth control.

The rebellion against Humanae Vitae affected every segment of the Catholic population in the United States. I remember as a teen and young adult how the Church’s teaching in this area was ridiculed and dismissed. The Church seemed so out-of-touch with our “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” culture.

But, to steal a line from a 1960s pop icon, “the times they are a changin’.” Young people are now taking to heart the Church’s teachings on human sexuality and the “theology of the body”–as is an older, broken generation that’s increasingly aware of having been betrayed by the so-called “sexual revolution.” More bishops and priests are breaking the “great silence” through sound preaching and teaching on contraception, aided by various organizations that promote marital chastity and natural family planning.

The Church is the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Amidst the confusion of the ’60s, Pope Paul VI courageously reminded us of God’s magnificent plan for human sexuality, a reminder that needs to be repeated–and lived.

The third seed of hope that I believe was planted in 1968 was the establishment by H. Lyman Stebbins of a lay organization called Catholics United for the Faith (“CUF”). Here were Catholic men and women acting upon the godly instinct–the fruit of a deep spiritual life–to come to the Church’s aid in her time of grave need. And, I might add, in doing so they were explicitly trying to manifest Vatican II’s rich teaching on the role of lay Catholics in the Church. For their trouble, they were often ostracized, vilified, and even treated as enemies of the Church. I was part of the second generation of CUF leadership in the 1990s and early 2000s. One board member reminded me that even then, in many dioceses, CUF had to “sit on the back of the bus.”

With the perspective of 40+ years, CUF’s positions have largely been vindicated. As Catholic Answers’ Karl Keating once wrote, on all the make-or-break issues in the Church, “CUF has been on the side of the angels (not to mention the side of the popes). It’s an enviable record of fidelity.” From the side of CUF have come wonderful apostolates, resources, and ministries, most notably FOCUS, the critically acclaimed Faith and Life catechism series, and Emmaus Road Publishing. By their fruit you will know them.

We Hold On

My family loves C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles. In the second story in this series, Prince Caspian, things are looking especially bleak for old Narnia, which is under attack. Many old Narnians have lost their faith in Aslan (the Christ figure in the story) and refuse to back the legitimate child-king, Caspian. Yet, there is one notable supporter of King Caspian among the talking beasts, Trufflehunter the badger, who says, on behalf of the badgers, that “we hold on.” While others have forgotten about Aslan and the need for a human of Caspian’s line to rule Narnia, the badgers couldn’t be moved. Trufflehunter says to Caspian, “as long as you will be true to old Narnia you shall be my king, whatever they say. Long life to your majesty.”

I was urged by some during my tenure with CUF to distance myself from CUF’s past, to make a fresh start. Appealing as that sounded at times, in the end it would have been a treacherous act of disloyalty. It would have done a grave injustice to the heroic CUF members who did their best to “hold on,” to follow Christ’s vicar on earth and pass the torch to the next generation.

“CUF” does not stand for Catholics United “against the Faithless” or “against the Fornicators.” Rather, it stands for Catholics united “for the Faith.”  And isn’t that what all Catholics in Northeast Kansas desire–to help all men and women achieve true, lasting unity by discovering or rediscovering the pearl of great price?

Emboldened with a new ardor, and armed with new methods and expressions, let us embrace the new evangelization as the great work of the Holy Spirit in our time!

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

Matters of Conscience

4 Oct

When it comes to controversial moral teachings like contraception, abortion, and homosexuality, why can’t I just follow my conscience? In fact, I was taught that we were always supposed to follow our conscience.

I’m sure many of us have heard this sort of objection to the Church’s moral teachings on hot button issues. People either disagree with the Church on these issues and/or have chosen a lifestyle incompatible with this teaching and are looking for a little wiggle room. But how does the Church herself understand such objection to established moral norms?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies the “assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience” as a source of error of judgment in moral conduct (no. 1792). It is true that one should not be forced to act against one’s conscience. But it’s quite another to assert that a Catholic with a well-formed conscience may put the Church’s teachings in the areas of faith and morals through his or her own “approval process.”

Some Catholic commentators assert that a well-formed conscience and official Catholic teaching may come to opposite conclusions in moral matters. This opinion directly contradicts paragraph 2039 of the Catechism: “Personal conscience and reason should not be set in opposition to the moral law or the Magisterium of the Church.”

A Catholic simply cannot claim to have a well-formed and well-informed conscience if he is ignorant of, misunderstands, or rejects outright God’s law and thus commits acts that the Church considers gravely disordered. Continue reading