Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Roundup of Best Posts for NFP Awareness Week 2014

Last year's guest post for NFP Awareness Week by James of continues to be one of the most popular posts on the blog. This year, we'll give you a roundup of the best NFP Awareness Week posts from all over the web, including James', of course. Thanks to readers Tara, Scott, Ellen, Susan, Cat, and Mary Lou for their suggestions. If you know of other great posts that should be added to the list, please share the link in the comments!

1. What is Natural Family Planning, by James of RealCatholicLoveandSex. James emphasizes that Natural Family Planning is actually a misnomer. Charting the signs of a woman's fertility is more of an education in her own body. We endanger our own happiness by making idols of our plans, as many couples learn when they use artificial birth control to prevent pregnancy for many years only to face infertility problems when they finally "plan" to conceive.

2. The WINNER'S Guide to NFP, by Simcha Fisher. To much popular acclaim, Catholic blogger Simcha Fisher authored The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning, which was released by Our Sunday Visitor earlier this year. So for NFP Awareness Week 2014, Simcha is offering a bevy of free give-aways, including an autographed copy of her book, a ClearBlue Easy Fertility Monitor (which retails for $135 - $150+), and a copy of my friend Susan Windley-Daoust's new book Theology of the Body, Extended: The Spiritual Signs of Birth, Impairment, and Dying.

3. The Paradox of Crunchy Women and Chemical Birth Control, on Ethika Politika. The post asks why anyone buying into the popular organic food craze would still willingly put artificial hormones into their own body every day. In addition to causing potential side effects like weight gain, depression, heart attack, and stroke, hormonal birth control has been shown to interfere with a female's ability to select a good mate or to attract one, according to certain studies.

4. Natural Family Planning Awareness Week: A few thoughts, by Deacon Scott Dodge. This post makes the important point that developing any virtue requires self-control and self-denial. The virtue of chastity is no different, and NFP helps us to attain that virtue.

5. Which Method of NFP is Right for Me?, on Although not an NFP Awareness Week post, strictly speaking, this short quiz is extremely helpful for people who are just starting NFP or who are not satisfied with their current method.

6. NFP Week! Theology of the Body in a Nutshell, by Ellen Gable Hrkach. Spousal love should be free, faithful, total, and fruitful, says Ellen, and artificial birth control can destroy all those aspects. It encourages an "I can't say no" attitude to sex, which keeps both husband and wife from loving in a free and mature manner.

7. My Husband, the Gentleman, by Sarah Hammond. This young bride explains how cherished she feels because of her husband's agreement to use NFP. Other couple testimonies are available on this page of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops web site.

8. The Fruitfulness of Truth, by DarwinCatholic. A lovely essay on how talking about being ready (or not) for another child can bruise feelings and egos, but since marriage lasts a lifetime, these bumps on the road can be seen as temporary setbacks rather than insoluble problems.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

How to Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some: Karee and Manny

The kick-off to this great new series How to Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some is written by yours truly, me and my husband Manny. Here are our prime bits of advice gathered over the years, and a few of our most cherished stories.

1. How many years have you been married and how many kids do you have?

Manny & Karee: We've been married 14 years and have 6 kids: Lelia, age 13; Miguel, age 11; Maria, age 9; Marguerite, age 7; Cecilia, age 5; and Elisa-Maria, age 3. Yes, we know that's a lot of girls.

2. Name 3 things that have helped you to stay married this long.

Manny: “Not staying married” was never really an option in my mind. So I would say that the first thing that has helped me stay married is a proper understanding of what marriage is -- a promise of forever. The second thing that has helped me stay married is that I meant what I said on my wedding day. The wedding vows I spoke were not flowery or cute, but rather simple and direct. They were spoken before God Almighty for all to hear, a promise that no force on earth could sever, save death. The third thing that has helped me stay married, and not just stay married but stay happily married, is a piece of advice a neighbor once gave me. Tony Imbarrato, who lived together with his wife Vicky next door to my parents, told me that marriage was like a delicate flower, responsive to love and care yet capable of wilting away if neglected or mistreated. That inspires me to nurture my marriage.

Karee: First, focusing on the positive things about my husband, my marriage, and my family. Focusing on the negative things doesn't make anyone happy, including me! Second, trusting that God has a purpose for our marriage and for our family. Manny told me when he proposed that there would come a time when he would let me down, not intentionally, but because he was human and he would fail. (The flip-side of that coin is that I would fail him, too, of course.) Only God never fails, and he will always bind up the little hurts we give each other. Third, allowing myself to become dependent on my husband. Total independence makes it too easy to walk out the door.

3. What role has your faith played in your marriage?

Manny: Safe to say that without my faith, I wouldn’t have seen a need to get married at all, at least not in the Catholic Church. Other churches have prettier buildings and better music. (Editor's Note: We got married in the beautiful Manhattan Church of the Holy Innocents, and our wedding Mass incorporated two choirs, two professional vocal soloists, an organist, two trumpet players, a flautist, and an original piece of music commissioned specially for the occasion. I defy anyone other than European royalty to produce proof of better music at a wedding ceremony.)

Karee: Faith has been a bedrock of our marriage. By putting God first, we avoid the potential power struggle over whose wishes and needs are more important. God's plans are the most important and they're better than anything we could imagine or dream of on our own.

4. What advice would you give people who are dating and considering marriage?

Manny: I would ask them why. Why get married? If you don’t have a clear reason, you’re not ready to get married.  Physical attraction is a good start but most assuredly not enough. If  there’s also a compelling socio-economic reason, such as saving money, again, I would say it’s not enough. If it’s to please others, their pleasure (and yours) will be short lived. In my mind there’s only one reason, in the end, to get married. You want to be with this person for the rest of your life, through sickness and health, for richer or poorer, for better or worse, ‘til death do you part. Looks fade, fortunes come and go, and pleasing others is rarely a good reason to make a life-long commitment.

Karee: When Manny and I were dating, he was very clear that the purpose of dating was to find out if we wanted to marry each other. No one had ever been so blunt about their intentions towards me, and it gave us an important incentive to keep trying to iron out our differences. So, be intentional. Date with a view towards marriage and don't be shy about discussing it openly.

5. What advice would you give newlyweds?

Manny: There’s something special, almost magical, about this time of life. In fact, for the first few years of marriage, you should feel free to consider yourselves newlyweds. Hold hands, giggle together, exchange glances when no one is looking, make time together a priority because it ought to be. And after the newlywed period ends, and of course it will, then make an effort to continue some of the things you loved doing when you were newlyweds. It will make a huge difference.

Karee: The best newlywed advice I ever got was from a priest in the confessional. He said to be patient, patient with my husband and patient with myself. There will be a lot of time to get used to one another and the changes that happen along with getting married. The changes can be exhilarating, but also a little nerve-wracking.

6. What advice would you give new parents or couples who are trying to have children?

Manny: Children are a blessing, and if received as such the joy and the laughs (kids are funny) will far outweigh the hard work and suffering that inevitably accompany parenthood.  

Karee: My parents told us when I first got pregnant that raising children would be the hardest thing we ever did in our lives. We smiled dreamily and said, "We know." We had no freaking clue. Dads, your wife is about to become a superhero -- appreciate it and respect it. Moms, remember that no matter how steep your learning curve is, your husband's will be steeper -- be understanding. Couples who are aching to become moms and dads, pray that the time of waiting prepares you to be grace-filled parents. Trust me when I say you'll need all the grace you can get.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Forget Free Sex. We Want Free Chocolate!

The Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby allowing corporations not to pay for abortifacient contraceptives on conscience grounds infuriated many. Some activists responded by rearranging the goods on Hobby Lobby shelves to spell out slogans such as "Pro-Choice" and "All Women Deserve Birth Control" in order to demonstrate their mature femininity  fitness as sexual partners  political savvy  anger. (For more equally emotional responses, click here.) The battle cry seemed to be "We want our non-procreative sex and we want it for free!"

"There is this new attitude that 'if my pleasure is something I deem good, then you should pay into it and enable me as well,'" commented one of my friends on Facebook. With utterly inescapable logic, she concluded that, based on this reasoning, the government should subsidize her daily ration of dark chocolate as well. The argument is as follows:

  1. Many people want dark chocolate.
  2.  Eating dark chocolate every day has proven health benefits, such as decreasing the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
  3. Decreased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease leads to lower medical costs to be borne by individuals and the healthcare system. 
  4. The government should therefore provide dark chocolate for free. 
The social, medical, and economic benefits of such a scheme are clear. Politicians would be wise to start a political party based on these principles, or at least incorporate these ideas into the plank of an already-existing party platform. Not only would chocolate-for-free garner even more popular support than contraception-for-free, it would also encounter less opposition. Consider this:

  1. Chocolate appeals to men, women, and children of all ages, whereas contraception would only arguably be beneficial for men and women of child-bearing age.
  2. Chocolate does not contain synthetic hormones that may raise the risk of cancer and harm the environment by polluting our streams
  3. Chocolate does not cause a small but real risk of increased blood pressure, blood clots, heart attack, and stroke
  4. No one (as far as I know) has a religious objection to eating chocolate or providing free chocolate to others.
So I say, forget free sex. We want free chocolate. Are you with me?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Free Sex: A New Right?

Please welcome my husband Manuel P. Santos, M.D., as he pens his first Can We Cana? guest post on the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision. :cue applause:


Perhaps it is only a matter of time until the Supreme Court weighs in on the question of whether access to free contraceptives is a fundamental right guaranteed to us as Americans, tucked away in the penumbra of the constitution, much like the right to abortion, which was found hiding there in 1973 in the now infamous Roe v. Wade decision.

The recent Hobby Lobby decision seems to have emboldened conservatives and outraged liberals, unmasking a deep divide in our country. How did we get here? Surely, the Affordable Care Act along with the HHS mandate on contraceptives didn’t just happen out of the blue. Or did it? Few would argue that Obamacare was bipartisan given that it was passed on party lines. The words “rammed through Congress” come to mind, despite assurances by our President that he would bring the nation together by ushering in a new era of non-partisan politics. Somewhere along the line the word healthcare was hijacked and redefined to include condoms, Viagra, and “the pill”. Over time, some women objected that if men can have Viagra covered by their health insurance, then as if channeling Saint Peter in a perverse turnaround, why not only the pill but also RU-486? And what about Plan-B? The stage is set, the savior arrives! Obama hands down the edict. Insurance companies must cover contraceptives for women. As if on cue, Sandra Fluke comes on the scene. The ersatz damsel in distress, deprived by a villainous Georgetown University Law School Health Insurance plan of her “god given right” to free contraceptives.      

Rarely do I have the opportunity to use the word Orwellian, but it seems appropriate given the way this administration has managed to impose its agenda. In the fourth chapter of his classic dystopian vision, Orwell describes the qualities of media entertainment for “Proles” (the 85% of the population that do not belong to The Party),
“Here were produced rubbishy newspapers containing almost nothing except sport, crime, and astrology, sensational five-cent novelettes, films oozing with sex, and sentimental songs.” (1984)
The incorporation of recreation into healthcare had its origins, perhaps, in the idea that a happy and healthy individual will need fewer medical services in the long run. This is sound thinking insofar as it goes. And from an economics standpoint it makes perfect sense. Invest in a treadmill now and forego the agony of a triple bypass years later. From the perspective of the bottom line, a few thousand dollars now could save millions later. A charitable interpretation of the administration’s obsession with contraception, and I use the term loosely since those in the know are well aware that contraceptives are often abortifacients, would be that offering free condoms (at pennies each) or even a month’s worth of the pill (averaging $30/month) is a sound investment. After all, an unplanned pregnancy will bring an unwanted child into the world, doomed to suffer misery and the myriad indignities that of necessity come with being "unwanted".  And then there’s the financial burden that an unwanted child will impose on the rest of us.

It seems to flow naturally from such logic that it is not only unfair to deprive a person struggling with an unplanned pregnancy of their "child-free" future, but that it would also be unfair to the unplanned child to allow it to come into the world unwanted. Better to avoid all these messy problems with that panacea which the left assures us is harmless, and which Obama wants to provide for us out of the kindness of his heart. The fact that half of his subjects don’t want it is irrelevant. In fact, a recent Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday July 2nd 2014 reveals that 33% of voters think Obama is the worst President since WWII (George W. Bush came in second with 28% and Richard Nixon placed third with 13%). It is curious that a man who promised to unify the nation has distinguished himself as being the most divisive.  

Rousseau, in his Discourse on Inequality, comments that in a tyrannical government we "should see the magistrates fomenting everything that might weaken men united in society, by promoting dissension among them; everything that might sow in it the seeds of actual division, while it gave society the air of harmony; everything that might inspire the different ranks of people with mutual hatred and distrust, by setting the rights and interests of one against those of another…it is from the midst of that disorder and these revolutions, that despotism, gradually raising up its hideous head and devouring everything that remained sound and untainted in any part of the State, would at length trample on both the laws and the people, and establish itself on the ruins of the republic.”  

In the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby, President Obama’s response via his official twitter feed is not only overly simplistic and misleading, but also seems tailor made to stoke the fires of partisan hostility, since he describes the ruling as a “throwback to last week when a woman-not her boss-made her own decisions about her healthcare.” I doubt that even the Norse god, Loki, could have contrived a more divisive Twitter post…were he to tweet.

It appears that our discourse has brought us full circle, to a fundamental question which we as the guardians of our great nation must ask ourselves. Do we choose to wade in waters polluted by the penumbral waste of free condoms, Viagra and Plan-B, or do we take a stand and prevent the defenders of free sex from dumping their toxic interpretation of our constitution into our rivers and streams? The decision is ours to make. The consequences will be our children’s to absorb.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Blogging through Self-Doubt

I'm sure that every Catholic blogger has asked themselves at least once why they do it. Is it really worth the time spent away from work, from family, from prayer? Is anybody listening? Does anybody care? One of my friends recently shut down his personal blog altogether, saying "While I have a lot of respect for many bloggers, I feel the blogosphere to be a net negative to the Catholic Faith.  ... It is the epitome of Francis' 'self-referential Church.'  Far from leading to a deepening of the faith, it has led to a corrosion of it." Could this be true?

My friend's words certainly don't describe the work of CatholicMom or any mommy blogger I know. But I've seen the corner of the Catholic blogosphere he describes -- the place where people attack one another viciously over minute points of doctrine or liturgical practices that baffle non-Catholics and fail to bring anyone to a holier and more peaceful frame of mind. I regularly engage in verbal fisticuffs with Catholics on LinkedIn who insist that if the majority of lay Catholics reject the Church's doctrine on artificial birth control, then the lay Catholics must be right and the Popes must be wrong. I have to ask myself if I'm really helping when I enter the fray.

And my answer has to be yes. Every blogger, like every Christian, is a witness to the strength of God's love alive in the world. Every one of us has a story of struggles, joys, heartaches, and glimmers of the salvation that awaits us. We follow Christ for deeply personal reasons that uniquely showcase the majesty of God's creation and the depths of his mercy.

As the beloved disciple John said in writing his Gospel, "there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." When we bloggers share the difference that Jesus has made in our lives, we are drawing on an infinite store of spiritual power and wisdom that could more than fill all the books in the world. When we blog from a place of prayer and compassion, keeping the ultimate goal of salavation of souls in mind, we are fulfilling our Baptismal mission to spread the Good News.

We don't, or shouldn't, blog to show that we're better Catholics than anyone else. Our blog should not be a trophy case displaying our own intelligence or faithfulness, because in our heart of hearts we know that we've all done stupid and faithless things. Our blog should feature installments in the story of our on-going love affair with God. Because no matter how mixed our motivations, if we weren't in love with God we wouldn't be blogging or commenting or arguing online in the first place.

Some readers have called me arrogant and judgmental, and I have to accept those accusations as true since my husband and my spiritual director have echoed them on occasion. But those accusations need to lead me to greater warmth, greater compassion, and greater understanding. They can't sink me into self-doubt and despair. The solution for me and maybe for many of us is to give more, not to give up. Even from within a prison of our own inadequacies and sinfulness, we can still preach the Word of God.

St. Paul shows us how to continue our work of evangelization no matter what the shape or size of our prison. While St. Paul was in house arrest in Rome, he welcomed all who came to him and boldly taught them about Jesus Christ (Acts 28: 16-31). Under this same incarceration, he also wrote the great prison epistles of Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians -- back when people wrote in ink rather than in bits and bytes. So, following the great missionary example of St. Paul, I will continue to pray, to write, and to share with others my love of God even from behind my own internal and often invisible prison walls.

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