Thursday, January 29, 2015

Sex, Intimacy, and NFP

This month's Natural Family Planning post is written by Colin Corcoran of The Catholic Husband: 23 Years Happily Married and Counting. Colin explains how he reacted when his wife converted to Catholicism and then dropped the bombshell -- she wanted to stop using artificial birth control. Want to raise the question with your spouse? Show them this post and ask them what they think. At the least, it'll jump start a difficult but important conversation.


I’m well aware this is a topic nobody really wants to talk about. We would be happier to just pretend it didn’t exist and go on our merry way. None of this changes the fact that I feel compelled to write about it today, and it’s a post that I have been stewing over for some time now. You’re probably telling yourself this doesn’t apply to you or your marriage, or that you and your wife have a mutual understanding. The hard truth is what you really might have is a mutual desire to avoid a deeply emotional subject which could potentially ignite a conflict if even mentioned. If after you read my story you find yourself feeling differently, consider letting your wife know that you’ve been reconsidering any prior decision on artificial birth control. This opens the door for a conversation if she senses you are sincere and would like the opportunity to revise the way things are. Heck, you might even let her read this just to get her reaction.

If there was a single word that could garner immediate interest and make your blood boil “SEX” would be it, whether with anger, fear, indignation, trepidation, anticipation, or some variety of other powerful and inflammatory emotions. I think that’s why it has such a potent effect on our relationships with our spouses. On one side it is a driving biological imperative and at the same time an emotional one. Sex is a wondrous construct, with the power to do far more than provide pleasure. It is also a conduit to intimacy, and when in the right context with the right person, a deeply bonding experience.

This was something I missed for the longest time. I think everyone notices that sex changes everything in a relationship. This is especially true in a marriage. I may find myself on a cracked and skinny limb here, but after over 20 years of marriage I discovered  a few things – some of them far more recently than I should have and this is one of them.

During my wife’s conversion to Catholicism she decided she needed to talk to me. It was obviously important to her; as she let me know in advance and very carefully selected a time and place to drop the bombshell. “I want to talk to you about stopping the artificial birth control”, she said. You could have knocked me over with a feather. If you’d asked me, I would have said everything was great! We had two children and were thinking maybe of having some more, but not that instant. I was taken aback. This would change everything, and change it far more than I realized at the time. It seems she had already talked to the priest about it and read up on what the Catechism had to say on the matter. It wasn’t an ultimatum, and she made it clear that she would not go forward without my agreement to do it. She wanted my consent and for me to take a little time to honestly evaluate the situation in order to give it.

That made things hard – no confrontation, no defiance, no excuse to react in any other way than to agree to look at it and give it some real thought. You might think I would have brushed it off, but I didn’t. Actually, it ate at me and gnawed continuously on my conscience. She provided me the sections of the Catechism relevant to the subject as well as Humanae Vitae and some other materials on NFP. I stuck to the actual church materials and avoided other people's interpretations of them. To this end, I actually read several of the talks that comprised Pope John Paul II's “Theology of the Body”.

In the end I stewed and fretted, not just about the moral implications, but also about how it was going to affect me. Selfishness reared its ugly head early on and guided my “gut” reaction to help ensure the outcome it favored. One of the most important steps we took was to take a class on NFP. I only thought I understood a woman’s body and her natural cycles and rhythms. What I discovered was that I knew more about the inner workings of a nuclear reactor than I did about the inner workings of a woman. We went through the class and spent a few months tracking her cycle. It was something we did together, and it was actually both intimate and interesting. By the end of second month I started to realize just how much I hadn’t understood.

In the end I wholeheartedly agreed, without reservation, to end the artificial contraception for many reasons,  including the following:

I was not willing ask another person to commit mortal sin with me or for me, so that I could enjoy marital relations without reproductive implications. It was not worth the increased cancer risks and other assorted health implications, including decreased libido and increased stroke risk, for my wife to take those pills. When I thought about it objectively, what I was doing was putting my wife’s health at risk so that I could have my way with her without fear of impregnation. Essentially, the pill turned her from a human partner into a receptacle for my sexual angst, whether or not that was ever my intention. What’s worse, I had learned that most pills are abortive. Many work by causing a spontaneous abortion or failed implantation when the prevention of ovulation fails. A condom makes an even bigger statement. Then there is a very tangible physical barrier between us which has a direct bearing on intimacy. To be honest, I heard artificial birth control in general saying something to my spouse – it said, “I want to have sex, but I don’t want any entanglements to ensue”.  The truth is that marriage is all about entanglement, in all aspects of our being.

I had always hoped for a son one day, and one day after my wife passed a clot  during her period, I went to look at the carefully wrapped bloody pad in the wastebasket. It dawned on me with a sudden clarity that the son I had so long desired might be that very clot now laid to rest in a tidy package at the bottom of the trash can. That moment my mind was made up, and I agreed.

The part of this whole discourse that is important however, is that it caused me to totally change the way I viewed and treated my wife and our sexual relationship. I would have been aghast and defensive if you had suggested to me that I had been selfish or that my motives or actions were less than honorable. However, that feeling does not stand the test of scrutiny from several years forward in time. While parts it of manifest themselves immediately, the change was not instantaneous – but no lasting change usually is. The truth is that things only got better from there, and we had 2 more children using NFP to achieve the conception by predicting those times most favorable for doing so. My wife felt much better in general, and thought I thought our sex life was great before – there was a spark missing which rekindled itself into a burning flame once the intimacy barrier of artificial conception was removed.

Let’s be clear that I’m not at all advocating having children until your wife’s uterus falls out, nor am I advocating against spacing the children you do have out. Just that you leave room for God to work in your life. Artificial birth control is not infallible either, and just provides a false sense of security which ends up being an excuse for the holocaust of abortion in far too many instances. I am saying that disposing of artificial birth control will change your entire perspective on sex, your spouse, and your marriage. In making this decision together, you’ll both be sending the other person a message – and don’t let that message to be “I love you, but not enough to accept the possibility that our love might create a new life who is part of both of us.”. How would you feel if your wife whispered in your ear, “I love you dear, but I abhor the thought of carrying your child”?  It would kill the mood for me too. Opening yourself to life might add a spark and excitement that has been absent far too long, and the message it sends about love and acceptance to the other person works wonders on the intimacy level which can be achieved.

 Photo Credit: spentpenny via Compfight cc

Thursday, January 22, 2015

13 Resources on Sacramental Marriage for Everyone from Newbies to Catechists


Catholic schoolchildren learn that marriage is one of the seven sacraments, but no one seems to understand what that really means. Yes, marriage -- as a sacrament -- is an outer sign of an inner grace, but that doesn't explain much to most people. The catchphrase "free, faithful, fruitful, and forever" says more about what spouses do for a marriage than what marriage does for the spouses.

I like how my spiritual director says it best -- it's all about the graces! With a sacramental marriage come beautiful graces of state that empower us to live the life to which God called us and live it to the fullest. That's what the Sacrament of Matrimony offers husbands and wives married in the Church, "sealed by a blessing, announced by angels, and ratified by the Father" (CCC 1642).

For anyone interested in exploring what the sacrament of marriage means and the difference it can make to husbands and wives, there are plenty of video and print resources for everyone from theology newbies to experienced catechists.

For Theology Newbies


1. Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, 2009 pastoral letter from the U.S.Council of Catholic Bishops, downloadable pdf available free at the bishops' web site (also in Spanish)

2.  Saying I Do: What Happens at a Catholic Wedding, streaming video resource from the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, available free at the bishops' web site
             
3. When Two Become One, a DVD starring yours truly and 3 other couples, plus explanation by a priest. Available for purchase here. Watch a clip on the About Me page here.

4. Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak, Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage (Ave Maria Press, 2013). By a popular Catholic psychologist and his wife.

5. Couples in Love: Straight Talk on Dating, Respect, Commitment, Marriage, and Sexuality, by Fr. John R. Waiss (Crossroad Pub. 2003). By my former spiritual director. Structured as a conversation between a dating couple and a priest.

For Theology Buffs


6. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Three to Get Married (Scepter Pubs., 1996). Originally published in 1951. A spiritual classic.

7. Scott Hahn, First Comes Love: The Family in the Church and the Trinity (Random House, 2002). Who doesn't like Scott Hahn?

8. Christopher West, Good News about Sex & Marriage: Revised Edition (Servant Books, 2004; updated 2007). Detailed, specific, and clear.

9. William May, Marriage: The Rock on Which the Family is Built, 2d ed. (Ignatius Press, 2009). Includes Pope John Paul II's Letter to Families.

10. Cormac Burke, Covenanted Happiness: Love and Commitment in Marriage (Scepter Pubs., 1999). With forward by Dr. Janet E. Smith.

For Catechists


11. Ramón García De Haro, Marriage and the Family in the Documents of the Magisterium: A Course in the Theology of Marriage, (Ignatius Press, 1993).  Translated by William May. Academic and pretty heavy going. Helps if you already have familiarity with the main documents.

12. Tim Muldoon & Cynthia S. Dobrzynski, eds., Love One Another: Catholic Reflections on Sustaining Marriages Today (The Church in the 21st Century), (Crossroad Pub., 2010).  A collection of essays including advice on how to rescue marriage prep from its current disastrous state.

13. Mary Amore, Helping Your Marriage Survive the Call to Ministry, Ministry & Liturgy Magazine,  vol 32, no.1, (Feb. 2005). Great for any married person involved in ministry or catechesis. Call 408-286-8505 for back issues or reprints.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Pro-life Kids' Books to Mark the Anniversary of Roe v. Wade


Kids don't have to listen to dinner-time conversations about the politics of the pro-life and pro-choice movements in order to know that babies matter. I've never known a little kid who hasn't asked his parents, "Please, can't we have another baby?" Babies are a gift, and sometimes little kids know that more instinctively than the rest of us.

So, with the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision looming, I'd like to highlight a Live Action News list of pro-life kids' books brought to my attention by blog reader Tara Sayani. Thanks, Tara!!

From "Simple ideas for communicating the pro-life message to children":

Storytime is another prime opportunity to instill pro-life values in our children. In general, it’s important to be selective about which books we choose to read to our little ones. And with a little effort, we can find excellent stories that teach why every life matters.
Here are some pro-life values to look for in children’s books. It’s important to point out these values in the book and find fun ways to emphasize them.
  • Every life counts.
  • Every person is important – even if they’re small, untalented, or needy.
  • Stop to help others.
  • A person’s value isn’t based on what she can give to me.
  • Life isn’t all about me.
  • Family is important – every member has a place.
  • Children are a gift.
  • Unselfishness, compassion, and justice

Read the full article here to get excellent recommendations for twelve different kids' books celebrating the value of life, including the ever-wonderful Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!, which features the all-time best pro-life rhyme:
“I’ll just have to save him. Because, after all,
a person’s a person, no matter how small.”
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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Best Catholic Books I Read in 2014



Here’s my list of best Catholic books I read and reviewed in 2014 — best kids' books, love stories, lives of the saints, and even mysteries. There should be something here for everyone. Enjoy!

Best Kids' Books


Children of Terror, by Inge Auerbacher and Bozenna Gilbride.  Children of Terror is an autobiographical account of two survivors of the Nazi death camps -- Inge, a German Jew, and Bozenna, a Polish Catholic. The nearly unimaginable details of their young lives present a gripping portrait of the horrors of World War II. For middle school and up because of the subject matter. Click here for my review and link to buy.

Saint Nicholas and the Mouse of Myra, by Jay Stoeckl.  This fun and appealing graphic novel retells the story of every kid's favorite saint.  The fictional Mouse of Myra is a real dramatic foil for St. Nicholas, who quietly converts this pagan and skeptical mouse to Christianity. Written at a third- to fifth-grade level but enjoyable for all ages. Click here for my review and link to buy.

Mission Libertad, by Lizette M. Lantigua.  Threats to religious liberty are nearer to us than most young people imagine, and the story of Castro's Cuba brings that lesson home in a powerful way. Born of Cuban exiles, journalist Liz Lantigua has written an eye-opening fictionalized account of a Catholic family escaping Cuba on a small raft with a mission to achieve freedom in the United States. For teens. Click here for my review and link to buy.

Best Love Stories


Chastity Is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin, by Arleen Spenceley. Love is not about what you get (or what you get to do between the sheets). Love is about what you give and how you give it. The culture tells us that love means having sex, but sex doesn't mean having babies. In this excellent rebuttal of current cultural mores, Arleen Spenceley explains that single people love in lots of ways that don't include sex, and married people (in most cases) share love through having sex and having babies. But both single and married people can achieve happiness through loving and being loved. Click here for my review and link to buy.

Tobit's Dog, by Michael N. Richard. The Biblical story of Tobit's marriage to Sarah, whose previous seven husbands had been slain by demons, has been cleverly reimagined in this new novel set in the backwoods of Depression-era North Carolina. Tobit's Dog combines elements of a young man's journey into adulthood, a love story, and a murder mystery. Click here for my review and link to buy.

The Lion's Heart, by Dena Hunt.  Almost certainly the first of its kind, this gay Catholic romance novel was published by Full Quiver Publishing, a small Canadian company dedicated to promoting St. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body mainly through the medium of fiction. The book is part of a growing effort of faithful Catholics to reach out to the gay community. The Lion’s Heart acknowledges that homosexual love feels like true love to those experiencing it. But true love requires what’s best for the beloved, and in the case of homosexual love, as dramatically depicted in the story of Paul and Max, what’s best for the beloved is to walk away. Click here for my review and link to buy.

Best Stories of Saints and Graces


Seven Saints for Seven Virtues, by Jean Heimann. Seven Saints for Seven Virtues particularly recommends St. Augustine as a role model for cohabiting couples who feel that marriage is unnecessary, pointless, or even constricting. St. Augustine cohabited with his mistress for 15 years, never marrying her and never attaining true happiness. Then he learned that true love is unsatisfied by anything less than a total and definitive self-surrender either to God in celibacy or to each other in Holy Matrimony. The book's other chapters similarly highlight one saint whose example can teach us one virtue. Seven Saints and Seven Virtues provides an excellent road map to the quest for virtue. Click here for my review and link to buy.

American Saint: The Life of Elizabeth Seton, by Joan Barthel. Calling itself "the definitive biography of Elizabeth Seton," American Saint, by New York Times best-selling author Joan Barthel, is the first full-length biography of St. Elizabeth Seton to be written in nearly fifty years. Drawing heavily from the saint's own collected writings, American Saint traces Elizabeth's life from her childhood as a wealthy Episcopalian to her death as an impoverished Catholic who founded the first order of American nuns and became the first American-born canonized saint. Click here for my review and link to buy.

The Grace of Yes: Eight Virtues for Generous Living, by Lisa Hendey. Even healers need to be healed. Even teachers need to learn more. And even those who advise perfection aren't perfect. If we're willing to admit that, then we have the grace of integrity, explains Lisa Hendey in her fourth book The Grace of Yes. Integrity is one of the many hidden graces that Lisa introduces us to in The Grace of Yes. Others include creativity, vulnerability, and even the strength to say no to a good that we are not called to do. Throughout the book, Lisa's encouraging voice reassures and inspires us to dig deeper, reach farther, and keep fighting the good fight. Click here for my review and link to buy.

Best Mystery Novels


The Truth and Nothing but Lies, by Chéri Vausé. This issue-driven mystery novel about the bombing of an empty abortion clinic falls within the tradition of pro-life novels such as Elizabeth Schmeidler's The Good Sinner, which centered around the murder of an abortionist. Considering how much the issue of abortion divides our country, it's surprising that more authors don't use it to dramatic effect. The book does an excellent job of presenting arguments for both sides through the characters, and then letting the reader decide.  Click here for my review and link to buy.

The Night Shadow, by Chéri Vausé. This film noir style detective novel stars a female, Catholic version of famous fictional private investigator Sam Spade (remember Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon?).  She and her partner are hired to discover whether a young and talented ballerina was burned to death by arson or accident. The main characters' Catholicism is understated and primarily cultural, but it has the gritty realism of people trying to do their best with the sometimes lousy situations life has handed them. Click here for my review and link to buy.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Good Kissin' Don't Last, Good Cookin' Do: 10 Years & Then Some

Welcome to Debbie and Anthony Gaudino, who tell us that self-sacrifice -- whether it 's offering to feed the baby in the middle of the night or cook up a big, bubbling pot of marinara sauce -- is "much more attractive and sustaining than romance." Debbie is a homeschooling mom of two, a theology graduate student at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and a speaker at women’s retreats, Adult Faith Formation programs, and Life in the Spirit seminars. Anthony works as a Business Manager for a local Catholic parish, loves to tinker with graphics and website development, and is the fearless principal of their homeschool! Debbie can be reached at her blog, Saints 365: Striving for the heights of holiness in the trenches of everyday life, or on FacebookTwitter,  Google+   and  Pinterest .


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


We have been married 18 years and have two children - a 12-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter. I have a combination of envy, panic and gratitude when I look at pictures from our wedding day. Envy at the young couple whose future lay ahead of them, stretching out like a beautiful undiscovered road - a road ripe with possibilities. Panic-stricken at the thought of why anyone would allow two young, naïve, unprepared people embark on a life-long adventure of marriage and parenthood. And, finally, grateful for the many blessings, and even for the struggles that we have experienced together in this beautiful sacrament.

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


First and above all, the grace of God has sustained our marriage. Although we were married at a Nuptial Mass, both of us were far away from the Lord and our faith at the time of our wedding. It wasn't until we were married 3 years that we both experienced a major conversion experience on a trip to Rome in the Jubilee Year 2000. From that day forward we surrendered our lives and our marriage to the Lordship of Jesus. We both know it was the grace of God that led us to experience conversion together, and it has been that grace that has sustained us through difficulties such as the loss of my father-in-law to cancer, my own post-partum depression and my husband's job loss.

Second, a bedrock sense of commitment has been essential to sustaining our marriage. We both are committed to the wedding vows we made and that commitment has been extremely reassuring when we have struggled through difficult times. Both of us grew up with parents who took their marriage vows seriously and their example of fidelity to each other during all the ups and downs of life has been a great witness to us as to how married life is lived out in the trenches of every day life (my in-laws were married 51 years when my father-in-law passed away and my own parents are married for 48 years at present).

Third, the ability to know what says "I love you" the most to the other person is another key to helping us stay married this long. For example, I know that my husband experiences love when I cook for him - if he comes home after a long day at work to a home-cooked meal, or wakes up on a Sunday morning to a pot of marinara sauce simmering on the stove, he is a happy man indeed. For me, I experience love when my husband cleans the bathrooms (a job I detest) or takes the kids out all day Saturday for me to get a break and some schoolwork done. Knowing what makes each other tick and trying to show our love in those ways has been invaluable.  I would love to say that on our Wedding day we instantly knew these things, but that is not true - getting to know each other has been an evolving process and one that I expect will continue to grow and change as time goes on. The key is to communicate and stay in touch with what the other person really needs.

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


After experiencing our conversion together, our faith became the centerpiece of our lives. We strive to live out our faith in our marriage and in the raising of our children, through active participation in the life of our parish and diocese. Our marriage has been nourished through participating in the sacraments, attending women's, men's and marriage retreats, serving the parish in various ministries both together and individually, and our own individual prayer lives. As our children grow, we try and involve them as much as we can in serving the church, and our family has been greatly blessed by the friendship and example of other Catholic families as well as priests who are striving for lives of holiness.

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


One of the biggest regrets we have as a married couple is that we were not walking with the Lord at the time of our marriage. We feel extremely grateful that the Lord drew both of us to himself at the same time, but we deeply wish that we had entered into the Sacrament of Marriage in a pure and prepared manner. I would urge couples who are dating or preparing for marriage to do so in a prayerful way - by praying together, by seeking Spiritual Direction, by frequenting the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession and by actively seeking as role models other faithful Catholic couples.

 5. What advice would you give newlyweds?


Self-sacrifice is so much more attractive and sustaining than romance. While I loved the long-romantic candle-lit evenings my husband and I enjoyed as newleyweds, they pale in comparison to all the times my husband took late-night feedings, nursed me when I was sick, reassured me when I was anxious and listened and supported me in my dreams and hopes for the future. An act of sacrificial love is one of the greatest gifts you can give your spouse - give them often and without counting the cost.

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


Start praying and don't stop. My husband and I struggled to conceive our first child. After nine months of trying to get pregnant, I poured out my heart to our parish priest one day about our struggles.  He point-blank asked me if we had prayed together and asked the Lord for a child. I said no - it had not even occurred to us to do so, and more than that, I had fallen into the trap of "Blessed are those who ask for nothing for they shall not be disappointed." When I returned home that day,my husband and I held hands and asked the Lord for the blessing of a baby.  Three weeks later I found out I was pregnant.

We learned a very valuable lesson that day - prayer is an essential component of parenthood. There is so much to being a parent that is out of your control as an individual or a couple. Learning to entrust your children and your own role as a parent into the Lord's hands is the only way to experience the "peace that passes all understanding" in the challenging, often-times tumultuous ride of parenthood.