Thursday, July 31, 2008
This book is full of a plethora of time honored and tested ideas for family devotions throughout the year and daily in the home. It even goes into helpful sacramentals and follows with separate sections for each nationality, which was very fascinating as well. It was originally published in the 50's under the title, "Your Home, A Church in Miniature." (doesn't that sound familiar to the often used term of our time, "the Domestic Church," we thought so.) We are so excited to incorporate many of the devotions illustrated in this book as well as several others. This book is truly a must have for both the growing family and newlyweds alike. We highly recommend it!!!
Contraception and the Language of the Body — Part 3 of 6
We continue our series [ Part one,  Part two] commemorating the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae. Pope Paul VI released this oh-so-controversial encyclical on July 25, 1968, re-affirming the constant teaching of the Church on the immorality of contraception. To this day it remains a “thorn in the side” of many. It was once a thorn in my side as well. John Paul II’s “theology of the body” helped remove that thorn and show me the glorious fragrance of the rose.
Last time we observed that contracepted intercourse marks a determined “closing off” of the sexual act to the Holy Spirit, to the “Lord and Giver of Life.” In this way, as John Paul II expressed it, contraception falsifies “the language of the body.”
We all know that the body has a “language.” A wave of the hand says “hello” or “goodbye.” A shrug of the shoulders says, “I don’t know.” A raised fist expresses anger. What is sexual intercourse meant to express? What is its true language, its true meaning?
According to Scripture, the sexual embrace is meant to express divine love. Precisely here, in the consummation of their sacrament, spouses are meant to participate in the “great mystery” of divine love. Whether spouses realize this or not, this is the sacramental power of their love. It’s meant to be an image and a real participation in Christ’s love for the Church (see Eph 5:31-32).
As John Paul II candidly expressed, “Through gestures and reactions, through the whole … dynamism of tension and enjoyment — whose direct source is the body in its masculinity and femininity, the body in its action and interaction — through all this man, the person, ‘speaks.’ … Precisely on the level of this ‘language of the body’ … man and woman reciprocally express themselves in the fullest and most profound way made possible for them by … their masculinity and femininity” (TOB 123:4).
But if sexual love is meant to express Christ’s love, we must properly understand the “language” of this love. Christ gives his body freely (”No one takes my life from me, I lay it down of my own accord” -Jn 10:18). He gives his body totally — without reservation, condition, or selfish calculation (”He loved them to the last” -Jn 13:1). He gives his body faithfully (”I am with you always” -Mt 28:20). And he gives his body fruitfully (”I came that they may have life” -Jn 10:10).
If men and women are to avoid the pitfalls of counterfeit love, their union must express the same free, total, faithful, fruitful love that Christ expresses. Of course, as fallen human beings, we’ll never express Christ’s love perfectly. Even so, we must commit ourselves to the life-long journey of learning how to express this love and, at a minimum, never willfully act against it. The name for this commitment is marriage.
This is precisely what a bride and groom consent to at the altar. The priest or deacon asks them: “Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage? Do you promise to be faithful until death? Do you promise to receive children lovingly from God?” The bride and groom each say “yes.”
In turn, spouses are meant to express this same “yes” with the “language of their bodies” whenever they become one flesh. “In fact, the words themselves, ‘I take you as my wife/as my husband,’” John Paul II says, “can only be fulfilled by conjugal intercourse.” With conjugal intercourse “we pass to the reality that corresponds to these words” (TOB 103:3).
Intercourse, then, is where the words of the wedding vows become flesh. It’s where men and women are meant to incarnate divine love. It’s a fine thing when a couple returns to the church to renew their vows on a special anniversary, but this shouldn’t undermine the fact that every time a husband and wife have intercourse they’re meant to renew their wedding vows with the “language of their bodies.”
How healthy would a marriage be if spouses were regularly unfaithful to their vows? On the other hand, how healthy would a marriage be if spouses regularly renewed their vows with an ever-increasing commitment to them? If you’d prefer the latter type of marriage, you have just accepted the teaching of Humanae Vitae. In the next column, I’ll unfold why.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Does Contraception Foster Love? — Part 2 of 6
We continue a series of reflections on the issue of contraception in light of the 40th anniversary of  Humanae Vitae. When Pope Paul VI issued this document on July 25, 1968, it fell like a bomb. Many people wished the issue would just go away. It hasn’t. And it won’t. In fact, it can’t “go away.” This encyclical takes us to the very foundations of human life (humanae vitae).
In the  last column, we looked at how contraception has played a key role in the cultural chaos in which we’re now immersed. Here we’ll look briefly at what seems to be at the heart of the matter — love. It all comes down to this: What is love? Does the mere exchange of sexual pleasure offer any surety of love? Our culture is sated with sexual indulgence but remains starved for love. Perhaps contraception has had something to do with this sad state of affairs.
It seems what we often call “love,” when submitted to honest examination, amounts to little more than mutual using for pleasure. In the language of John Paul II, the opposite of love is not hatred. The opposite of love is using another person as a means to an end. I know this is a cliche, but why do so many wives claim “headache” when their husbands want sex? Might they feel used rather than loved?
The Catholic teaching on sex is an invitation to embrace the love that really corresponds to the deepest desires of the human heart. That is a demanding love, to be sure. Should we expect it to be otherwise as followers of Christ? “Love one another,” Jesus says, “as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). This means it’s going to hurt. It’s going to demand sacrifice.
St. Paul says it plainly: husbands are to love their wives “as Christ loved the church” (Eph 5:25). Then he concludes this marvelous passage with the most exalted presentation of sexual love in all of human history: “‘’or this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:21-32).
The Church, so often accused of devaluing sex, ascribes to sexual love the highest possible value — it is meant to be a merging of the human and the divine. Anything less, the Church proposes, is a counterfeit for the love we yearn for at the deepest level of our beings. Sexual love is meant to image the mysterious and eternal “exchange of love” within the Holy Trinity. In the normal course of events, the mutual exchange of husband and wife leads to a “third” — a new human life conceived through the work of the Holy Spirit, “the Lord, the Giver of life.”
Contracepted intercourse marks a determined “closing off” of the sexual act to the Holy Spirit, to the very life and love of God. In short, whether they realize this or not, contracepting couples are saying, “We prefer the momentary pleasure of sterlized sex over the opportunity of participating in the eternal love of the Trinity.” To which I respond … bad choice! But do you think if couples really knew they were saying this, that they would continue to do so? “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
Most couples simply have no idea what they’re getting themselves into when they sterilize their sexual acts. So none of this is about assigning culpability. If I drink a cup of poison — but don’t know it’s poison — I haven’t committed suicide; I’m not culpable for my own death. But it will still kill me, because whether I think it’s poison or not has no bearing whatsoever on whether it is poison or not. Furthermore, if you know it’s poison and I don’t, what would be the loving thing to do if you saw me reaching out to drink it?
The Church is not trying to impose her morality on us. Like any loving mother, she is trying to prevent her children from unwittingly ingesting a very dangerous “poison to love.” As the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae approaches, let us thank Pope Paul VI for loving us so much.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Contraception and Cultural Chaos — Part 1 of 6
This July 25th marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most controversial papal documents in history: Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae which reaffirmed the traditional Christian teaching on the immorality of contraception. If you have wrestled with this teaching, believe me, I can relate. Years ago I almost left the Church over it. Forty years of perspective provide an opportunity to take another look. That’s what I’ll be doing in [the next] several columns.
You may have noticed above that I said “traditional Christian teaching” on contraception. Only in the last 50-70 years has this been viewed primarily as a “Catholic” issue. Until 1930, all Christian bodies stood together in their condemnation of any attempt to sterilize the marital act. That year, the Anglican Church broke with more than nineteen hundred years of uninterrupted Christian teaching. When the pill debuted in the early 1960’s, the Catholic Church alone was retaining what in 30 short years had come to be seen as an archaic, even absurd position.
One way to begin understanding the Church’s stance is by “judging the tree by its fruit.” This is what first made me realize that contraception was a much more important issue than I had realized.
When Margaret Sanger and her followers started pushing contraception in the early 1900’s, wise men and women — and certainly not just Catholics — predicted that severing sex from procreation would eventually lead to sexual and societal chaos. Today’s culture of adultery, divorce, premarital sex, STD’s, out-of-wedlock births, abortion, fatherless children, homosexuality, poverty, crime, drugs, and violence was all foreseen.
What’s the connection with contraception? While today’s societal chaos is certainly complex, the following demonstrates the “inner logic” of contraception’s contribution. People are often tempted to do things they shouldn’t do. Deterrents within nature itself and within society help to curb these temptations and maintain order. For example, what would happen to the crime rate in a given society if jail terms suddenly ceased?
Apply the same logic to sex. People throughout history have been tempted to commit adultery. It’s nothing new. However, one of the main deterrents from succumbing to the temptation has been the fear of pregnancy. What would happen if this natural deterrent were taken away? As history demonstrates, rates of adultery would skyrocket. What’s one of the main causes of divorce? Adultery. Apply the same logic to pre-marital sex. Such behavior has, indeed, skyrocketed. Premarital sex, as a kind of “adultery in advance,” is also a prime indicator of future marital breakdown.
It gets worse. Since no method of contraception is 100% effective, an increase in adultery and pre-marital sex will inevitably lead to an increase in “unwanted pregnancies.” What’s next? So many people think contraception is the solution to the abortion problem. Take a deeper look and you’ll see that that’s like throwing gasoline on a fire to try to put it out. In the final analysis, there is only one reason we have abortion — because men and women are having sex without being “open to life.” If this mentality is at the root of abortion, contraception does nothing but foster and afford this mentality.
Not everyone will resort to abortion of course. Some will choose adoption. Other mothers (most) will raise these children by themselves. Hence the number of children who grow up without a father (which has already been increased by the rise in divorce) will be compounded. And a culture of “fatherless” children inevitably becomes a culture of poverty, crime, drugs, and violence. All of these social ills compound exponentially from generation to generation since “fatherless” children are also much more likely to have out-of-wedlock births and, if they marry at all, divorce.
What about homosexuality? Our culture is impotent to resist the “gay agenda” because we have already accepted its basic premise with contraception — the reduction of sex to the exchange of pleasure. When openness to life is no longer an intrinsic part of the sexual equation, why does sexual behavior have to be with the opposite sex?
Forty years after the release of Humanae Vitae, many people are beginning to see that the Church might not be crazy after all.