The priesthood seems foreign to our postmodern world. In a culture obsessed with sex, celibacy seems strange. In a culture of “independence,” obedience seems a burden. And in a self-centered culture, in which self-fulfillment is deified and worshiped, a life of radical charity seems impossible and naïve.
The priest is a sign of contradiction, a living witness to the love of Christ himself.
So I'm supposed to meet with an ex from before I was Catholic. Prior to this conversion sex was no problem for me, but I do want to be a good Catholic and have as such abstained since my baptism; however I'm worried meeting with her will lead down a road I don't want to go down, and yet I can't cut her from my life because she's in a pretty bad place and I can't abandon her to that. I suppose I'm really just asking if you have any tips for staying chaste in tough spots like this. Thanks so much
Congratulations on your conversion to Catholicism. As a fellow Catholic Convert, it’s amazing how God is able to free us from our former lives! My main suggestion for staying chaste in your situation would be to make sure these meetings do not include you two alone and in private. Stay in public spaces or stay with groups of mutual friends! Be sure to say some prayers for guidance and protection before you see her, and I’ll be sure to say some prayers for you both.
“St. Paul speaks of marriage as a “great mystery,” a marvelous participation in God’s life and mission. It is a blessed vocation and a holy adventure, wherein a man and a woman entrust their hearts, their lives and their eternal destinies to one another. God is the silent companion in the living out of that commitment.”—Archbishop John C. Nienstedt (St. Paul and Minneapolis)
Our middle son recently announced his engagement to a young woman he has been friends with since childhood and dated for nearly four years. My husband and I are grateful for the way in which Luke and Audrey have discerned their engagement and their plans for a Church wedding this May.
In our house, group dating may begin at age 16, but one-on-one dating is forbidden until age 18. Our reasoning is that dating is a prelude to marriage, and no one should date who isn’t ready to begin the search and make the commitment to marriage.
Dating and discernment are important and require the right intentions and approaches, based on individual personalities and holy purpose.
Gregory Popcak, who, with his wife, Lisa, authored Beyond the Birds and the Bees: Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids (Ascension Press, 2012), says that age is less important than maturity when it comes to dating.
"It’s more about having accomplished certain developmental and moral tasks," he said.
Popcak recommends that parents ask themselves certain questions when deciding whether and when to allow their children to date, including: Does my child know how to be friends with the opposite sex? Do I know my child to be a moral and spiritual leader among his/her peers?
"The more you see your child demonstrating these traits at home — with you and his/her siblings and friends — the more you can safely assume that your child is ready to date," he added.
Dating plays a vital role in the marriage-discernment process, giving young people experiences with the opposite gender so that they can learn what types of personalities may be a good match for them.
For Stu and Liz Sigmund of Oconomowoc, Wis., dating was an indispensable factor in their marriage discernment. The Sigmunds dated for four years and were engaged for one before marrying in 2011. They have a 7-month-old daughter.
When they began dating, Stu was 23 and Liz was 21; neither had seriously dated anyone before, and that’s the way they both preferred it. They also both were discerning vocations to the religious life, with Liz being more certain that she was called to marriage, but Stu still divided between marriage and the priesthood.
"There’s no reason to date someone you don’t really think you would marry someday," said Liz. "I used to actually tell my mom that I was only going to date the person that I was going to marry. That turned out to be true for me."
The Sigmunds also point out that dating is about family: learning to live with each other’s families, which sometimes can be quite difficult, and preparing to form a new one together.
"Something I always felt to be important for a good relationship is for each spouse to be accepted and supported by the other’s family, and our dating time was often centered on the time spent with each other’s family. How could I have ever expected Liz to marry me and become a part of my family if she didn’t know firsthand what that was going to mean?" Stu said. "Plus, I always have believed that marriage is about family. Anyone who is not interested in having or being a family has no business getting married."
Even after spending time together and with one another’s families, how does one know whether the person he/she is dating is the one God has intended to be his/her spouse?
God intends marriage to be based on authentic love, aimed at bringing one another closer to Christ.
As Pope Pius XI noted in his encyclical Casti Connubii (On Christian Marriage): “To the proximate preparation of a good married life belongs very specially the care in choosing a partner; on that depends a great deal whether the forthcoming marriage will be happy or not, since one may be to the other either a great help in leading a Christian life or a great danger and hindrance. And so that they may not deplore for the rest of their lives the sorrows arising from an indiscreet marriage, those about to enter into wedlock should carefully deliberate in choosing the person with whom henceforward they must live continually: They should, in so deliberating, keep before their minds the thought first of God and of the true religion of Christ, then of themselves, of their partner, of the children to come, as also of human and civil society, for which wedlock is a fountain head.
"Let them diligently pray for Divine help, so that they make their choice in accordance with Christian prudence, not indeed led by the blind and unrestrained impulse of lust, nor by any desire of riches or other base influence, but by a true and noble love and by a sincere affection for the future partner; and then let them strive in their married life for those ends for which the state was constituted by God.
"Lastly, let them not omit to ask the prudent advice of their parents with regard to the partner, and let them regard this advice in no light manner, in order that, by their mature knowledge and experience of human affairs, they may guard against a disastrous choice and, on the threshold of matrimony, may receive more abundantly the divine blessing of the Fourth Commandment: ‘Honor thy father and thy mother, (which is the first commandment with a promise), that it may be well with thee and thou mayest be long-lived upon the earth.’"
"He/she will unleash in you the best, highest and most virtuous version of yourself," explained author and speaker Mark Hart, executive vice president of Life Teen International. Hart is also known as the "Bible Geek." He and his wife have three young children. "Marriage, and dating before that, is not about finding ‘someone you can live with.’ It’s about finding someone you desire to die for daily — to die to yourself, your selfish wants and human sins — and seek to live for the other. Dating and marriage are not about what we ‘get,’ but about what we give."
Real love, says the Sigmunds, isn’t something to take for granted. They encourage young couples who are dating and discerning marriage to surround themselves with people who have positive feelings about marriage, go to Mass and adoration together and participate in activities that make it easier for them to learn and grow deeper in their faith together.
"Don’t use the word ‘love’ casually," Liz advised. "Make it deliberate, and wait until you really know. I know I wanted to say it so quickly, but I waited until Stu said it, because I knew that he needed time to accept it. Also know that the devil will try to break up a good relationship; he is not happy when you are faithful to God and your significant other."
And parents help their children to discern true love by modeling healthy and holy love themselves.
"Parents should be affectionate in front of their kids," Hart advised. "They should model healthy communication, even healthy ‘arguing’ and ‘disagreeing,’ constant gentleness, mercy, compassion and mutual respect. In short, parents should ‘become’ the person they desire their children to ‘bring home.’"
Above all else, prayer is a top priority in dating and marriage discernment, according to all sources interviewed for this article.
Southern Californian Leslie Lenko depended on prayer and the sacraments to guide her through a tough discernment process before marrying her husband of 20 years. The Lenkos have two teenage children.
"I remember many times, after work, driving to a beautiful Catholic church for prayer. I took great comfort in praying before a statue of holy Mother Mary," she said. "I had a broken engagement two years prior, and I needed to be very sure this time. I also went to Mass a great deal, took long walks and asked many questions."
One day, while attending Mass with her future husband, she received a sign; shortly thereafter, they became engaged.
"The graces are many for those who discern well," Lenko said.
Added Stu Sigmund: “It takes a lot of silent prayer and reflection to hear what God has written into your heart. We are called to love our spouse as Christ loved the Church.
"He loved us when it felt like being gathered around the table with good food and conversation with friends, but he carried that love right through from there, on to when it felt like hatred, betrayal, thorns in his head, nails through his hands and his blood pouring on the ground. If we can choose to love someone like that, not knowing how it could ever be possible, but trusting that if that is what God asks of us, then he will give us what we need to do it, then marriage is possible and wonderful and full of his incredible blessings."
“Chastity is not a mortification of love but rather a condition for real love. In fact, if the vocation to married love is a vocation to self-giving in marriage, one must succeed in possessing oneself in order to be able to truly give oneself.”—
Pontifical Council for the Family: Preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage (24)
"Our pastoral letter presents those beliefs and teachings of the Catholic Church—informed by human reason and enlightened by Divine Revelation—that summarize and express God‘s plan for marriage. This divine plan, like the gift of marriage itself, is something we receive, not something we construct or change to fit our purposes. It is a firm foundation, a truthful guide, a trustworthy light for the way.” (pages 3-4)
“Father, by your plan man and woman are united,
and married life has been established
as the one blessing that was not forfeited by original sin or washed away by the flood.”—Catholic Rite of Marriage A, no. 33
Stupid question and I know it's not the best way to handle this, but do you know of any Christian, single guys looking for friendship/a relationship? Literally no guys talk to me in real life. The only guys who talk to me are creepy older men wanting to use me for sex. I guess I just really want a guy to acknowledge I exist, and hope our friendship turns into something more
Sometimes it can be really difficult to be a single christian with values. Your dating pool feels a lot smaller than what other people may experience! Since I have no idea where you live, I can’t really suggest any guys for you to talk to in real life. What I can suggest is that you make a really sincere effort to branch out. Check to see if your church (or any in the area) has programing for teens/young adults and just go and check it out. I found a really great bible study in my city that has a social hour afterwards, and just last night I went to a theology on tap series (look it up if you haven’t heard of it). Is it scary to walk into something like that alone? Yeah. But everywhere I’ve gone I’ve been welcomed with open arms. I like to think that God rewards those who put in some effort :)
It is quite traditional and correct to speak of “discerning a vocation” – particularly to consecrated life or the priesthood, though also in regard to marriage, careers, and other major commitments. In modern Western culture, however, the idea of vocational discernment has become problematic, producing unnecessary indecision and anxiety.
The problem is not with the traditional concepts and language, but with us and our mindset. Shaped by the modern sensibility of intense self-consciousness, and by theconsumer culture’s obsession with options and the “pursuit of happiness,” we think too much about ourselves and our preferences. Often, we are looking for the wrong things in a vocation. And we approach the discernment of our calling in a correspondingly wrong way.
This is true across the board: with regard to choices like marriage and work, just as for consecrated religious vocations and the priesthood. In all these areas, we invest the idea of a vocation with expectations our forebears did not have. We think that discernment consists in figuring out whether those expectations will be met. Then we become frustrated when no option seems to fit the bill.
Our expectations are wrong. Consciously or not, we sometimes expect a vocation to solve all of our problems, answer all of our questions, and satisfy all of our desires. But these are not the purposes of a vocation. Discernment, likewise, does not consist in finding the choice that will meet those expectations.
Your vocation will not live up to these unrealistic hopes. Nothing in this world will answer all your questions, solve all your problems, or satisfy all your desires. These are impossible, immature ambitions, and the spiritual life consists largely in realizing that they are impossible and immature.
The purpose of life is the unitive devotional service of God, which includes the love of our neighbor (in whom God dwells). This is the real purpose of any vocation. Some forms of life, such as monasticism, are ordered directly to this end; other states of life are oriented toward it indirectly. But these are only different versions of the one human vocation: to love and serve God, and become one with him in Christ.
A vocation – any vocation – is a school of charity and a means of crucifixion. Your vocation is the means by which your self-serving ego will die in order to be resurrected as the servant and lover of God. This is all that we can expect; but this is everything – the meaning of life, all there really is.
My vocation is where I will learn to let go of my questions, carry the cross of my problems, and be mysteriously fulfilled even when I am not happy. We have some choice as to how we will undergo that process; we do not – so long as we abide in the grace of God – get to choose whether we will undergo it.
This, it seems to me, is the attitude we should bring to discernment. I am not choosing between makes and models in a store, looking for the perfect fit or the best value. One is faced, rather, with the question: How I should lose my life, in order to save it? (Luke 9:24)
Of all the wrong expectations that we bring to vocational discernment, perhaps the most pernicious is the expectation that “everything will finally make sense.” We imagine that our true calling, when we find it, will bring a kind of total coherence and resolution to our fragmentary, broken, unresolved lives.
Modern life – with its combination of extreme intensity and instability – promotes both the inner fragmentation of the psyche, and the intense self-focus that makes such fragmentation especially painful. Naturally, we want the pieces to be put back together, the loose ends tied up. But we cannot expect this in the course of our present, earthly lives.
To be sure, a true vocation will have a certain coherence about it: one will understand his task, his direction, in a new way. He will have a degree of clarity, at least regarding which route he is to take on the pilgrimage toward his ultimate destination.
But it is a trap – and perhaps a very common one – to think that my vocation will sort out and join together all the scattered puzzle-pieces of my life, healing all the inner disintegration and painful incoherence of my past, present, and future. Your vocation will not cause life to make sense in that way.
Discernment is not about finding the hidden, magic key that will unlock your life and solve the riddle of your being. When you figure out what you ought to do with your life, and begin to do it, you will be just as much a mystery to yourself as you are now. Your daily confusions, recurring frustrations, and deep puzzlements will remain. Life, even life illumined by faith, will be an enigma – at least as much as before.
This is how things must be for us on earth. Things will be different only in the world to come: where we will see clearly what we now see only “through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12), where my secret and eternal name – which I do not even know yet – will be given to me (Rev. 2:17). Your vocation is not the answer to the question of your being; it is only a part of God’s pledge that the answer will be given in the end.
Nor will your vocation heal the deep sense of incompleteness and longing that you feel. This is critical to realize. Many people fail in their vocation – perhaps especially in the vocation of marriage – because they expect their life’s calling to satisfy, or at least take away, the impossible and inexpressible longing that lies within them: that strange mix of awe and desire and sadness before the mystery of existence.
But your vocation, whatever it may be, cannot do that either. That longing is ours as long as we are in this world. We must bear it, and let it become a “vacancy for God.”
All of this – the sadness and perplexity of life – will accompany you in your vocation. It will exist, with no contradiction, alongside the joy and truth of the Gospel. It is what we must suffer until we are fully united with God in eternity.
But that union must begin here and now, if it is to occur at all. Your vocation, in the end, is simply the means by which you will allow it to occur.
“There’s no escaping yourself,” conventional wisdom says. That is perhaps half-true, at least in the order of nature. But it is not true in the order of grace. There, God provides an escape, or something better than an escape: a transcendence that preserves all our natural gifts, while taking our focus off of ourselves. We remain ourselves; but our focus simply rests on the Lord – “everywhere present and filling all things.”
Then we have escaped: we no longer look at ourselves, anxiously or pridefully or in any other way, beyond the bare and necessary minimum. We simply look upon Christ, and on our neighbor with whom he identifies himself. (Paradoxically, it is only then – when we have almost completely forgotten ourselves – that we see ourselves rightly, and know who we really are.)
But that is the only escape there is. You cannot take a shortcut simply by getting married, or becoming a missionary, or changing careers, or joining a monastery. Such choices must be made, and such responsibilities embraced; but they will not, in themselves, provide any escape from ourselves. These external situations are only necessary means, the circumstances in which our liberation becomes possible.
You will enter into a new state of life, your chosen and God-given vocation; and yet, because you have not been radically renewed, you will experience it as largely familiar once the novelty has worn off.
Someday this will not be the case: you will be changed, if you persevere. But this change in you will not occur through the mere changing of circumstances. They will reshape you – God will reshape you, through them – over the course of years.
Slowly, you will be freed from the trap of selfishness in which you were born. In the school of your vocation, Christ will teach you to forget your wants, and even your needs, for the sake of the charity that “seeks not its own” (1 Cor. 13:5).
No matter what calling you embrace, your vocation must be your means of letting Jesus into your life completely, learning to love God more than yourself.
This does not mean fixating on a sentimental idea, or worshiping an enthroned mental abstraction. It means living in the fullness of Reality: recognizing and loving the Lord who is absolutely transcendent yet totally present, the Son of God who “plays in ten thousand places, / Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his / To the Father through the features of men’s faces” (G.M. Hopkins).
That one of these faces should be your own, and that the light of your eyes should be the light of Christ living within you: this is the goal of your vocation, whatever it may be.
But you will not reach that goal by ordinary human means: not by the calculation, strategy, and careful hedging of bets that seem – but only seem – to make the world go around.
The central question in discernment is: How shall I die with Christ, to rise with him? How will I lose my life to find it? What will bring me to the point where I can say, with St. Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”?
Such thinking is more than countercultural; it goes beyond our natural inclinations. But this is the perspective of the Gospel, the self-emptying attitude of Christ that should also be in us. And it is the only mindset by which we can revive three vocations – marriage, consecrated life, and the priesthood – that are currently in trouble.
When we lose sight of Christ; purity, love, salvation, redemption, obedience, and everything that Christianity tells us to do, will seem impossible. But when we keep our focus on Christ and what He wants? It becomes as natural as breathing.
We can never dictate the commands of God; we can only serve obediently to His gentle and most beautiful call.
Pain is part of being human. Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice, because, given temperamental differences and the drama of situations, it will always bring with it renunciation and pain.
When we know that the way of love — this exodus, this going out of oneself — is the true way by which man becomes human, then we also understand that suffering is the process through which we mature. Anyone who has inwardly accepted suffering becomes more mature and more understanding of others, becomes more human. Anyone who has consistently avoided suffering does not understand other people; he becomes hard and selfish.
Love itself is a passion, something we endure. In love I experience first a happiness, a general feeling of happiness. Yet, on the other hand, I am taken out of my comfortable tranquility and have to let myself be reshaped. If we say that suffering is the inner side of love, we then also understand by it is so important to learn how to suffer — and why, conversely, the avoidance of suffering renders someone unfit to cope with life. He would be left with an existential emptiness, which could then only be combined with bitterness, with rejection, and no longer with any inner acceptance or progress toward maturity.
4. “As soon as I decided I was OK being single, my husband/wife came along!”
That is awesome. I love when God works that way. Isn’t it fun? However, God does not always work that way. I have been in the “OK with being single” stage of life for roughly seven years now. Men have come in and out of my life. I’ve dated a couple of them. I haven’t married any of them. I’ve been single longer than I’ve dated.
So please don’t present an attitude of contentment as a magic formula to find a spouse. Every person on earth should work on cultivating an attitude of contentment regardless of what stage of life they’re in, and for no other reason than to be the complete and whole and confident person that God has created them to be.
We walked the aisle, said “I do,” and stuffed cake in each others faces when I was 24.
I wasn’t 25 before I realized that I had absolutely no idea how to be married.
I brought a lifetime of bad ideas and bloated expectations to this enigmatic relationship, and the deeper we got into marriage, the more ridiculous some of my most basic assumptions about it proved to be.
After slamming doors and screaming matches became regular hobbies of ours, I knew I needed to put some of these basic expectations to the test.
My personal exploration hasn’t ended—and ideally, never will. But here are a few things I’ve picked up along the way that could save newlyweds at least a few hard days.
1. Happily Ever After is a Perk—Not the Point.
OUR MODERN OBSESSION WITH BEING HAPPY OFTEN MAKES IT FAR EASIER FOR US TO LOVE HAPPINESS MORE THAN WE EVER LOVE ANOTHER HUMAN.
Our modern obsession with being happy often makes it far easier for us to love happiness more than we ever love another human. And though being happy is a very real by-product of a healthy relationship, the value we put on personal fulfillment is so inflated, it’s causing us to miss one of the more beautiful purposes of marriage.
In Hebrew, the word used for marriage actually means “Fire.” And not-so-coincidentally, fire is also the element used throughout ancient Hebrew culture to represent personal reformation. In this light, marriage, and its necessary—but often unhappy—friction, is seen less as a doorway to happily ever after and more as a tool in God’s hands to help us become increasingly beautiful—increasingly our best and brightest selves.
2. The Perks of Marriage are Incredible—but They Take Work.
Many experts say young people simply expect too much from marriage. But I tend to think that it’s not what perks we expect, but how we expect to get them that sets us up for disappointment in marriage.
We walk the aisle, recite a few vows and subconsciously expect marriage to be a genie in a bottle without a price tag—freely giving out sustainable happiness, breathtaking sex and emotional security.
But you aren’t entitled to the benefits of love just because you put a ring on it. Those perks only come with intentional investment and personal sacrifice.
3. Good Consumers Make Bad Lovers.
The Hebrew word for love, ahava, has little to do with what one feels or receives. To the contrary ahava is actually a verb that means “I give.”
Love is not the fleeting butterflies we get when looking into the eyes of our significant other. It’s far simpler—and far wilder—than all of that. It is the big, small, mundane—but generous—choices to give to our spouse. And as we begin to orient ourselves to this brand of love that requires us to show up continually, we’re sure to discover the beautiful paradox that it is.
4. Love is a Journey—Not a Free Fall.
Many of us think we meet someone, date, fall in love and then get married. We then expect to reap the rewards of love immediately—and inevitably learn that true love isn’t, in fact, something we fall into. This state of “Love” (and all of its benefits) is developed over years of learning to relate to one another—it’s a journey.
These benefits are very real perks of love, but we don’t simply fall into them. Why? Because trust requires time, true companionship comes from years of conversation, and the kind of romance that doesn’t fade only comes from being intentional over the long-haul.
5. Marriage isn’t Just a Choice.
With those words, we choose to embark on a journey to learn how to give, to value and to care for another human as much as we do ourselves. But marriage isn’t just a choice we make on our wedding day. Its a choice we make every day.
A good friend says it this way, “Marriage isn’t something we accomplished the day we said ‘I do.’ It is an ongoing action of marrying our individual lives—with all of our thoughts, responses, fears and strengths—together.”
6. Marriage is Designed to be Priority No. 1.
One of the most useful tips I’ve been given on marriage comes from a rabbi who said, “All of your problems (financial, relational, marital, etc.) are because your marriage isn’t your highest priority (this is not considering relationship to the Divine). The gains that a spouse will feel on both a spiritual and material level defy description, once they make their marriage first place.”
The moment our spouse feels less important than our work, friends or hobbies—our efforts of love suddenly mean very little to them. But when marriage is given its rightful place in our priorities—our spouse becomes a partner and asset to every other area of life.
7. Your Spouse isn’t the Problem. You are.
MARRIAGE IS NOT SIMPLY A PRIVATE ENDEAVOR BETWEEN TWO PEOPLE. WHEN LOOKING THROUGH THE LENS OF RESEARCH, HEALTHY MARRIAGE IS CLEARLY A SOCIAL GOOD.
It took me a long time (and an absurd number of yelling matches) to see my wife’s “issues” were actually just a reflection of much deeper brokenness in me.
This is the phenomenon Solomon of the Bible alludes to when he says, “As in water, face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects man.” Or the truth of what Rabbi Shalom Arush is pointing at when he says,
“You didn’t get married to correct your spouse. You got married to be corrected, by using your spouse as a mirror.”
8. The World Needs Love.
Social & scientific studies show that for better or worse, your marriage changes you, determines your spouse’s growth, affects your kids development, alters the future of your community and has implications on your economy.
Marriage is not simply a private endeavor between two people. When looking through the lens of research, healthy marriage is clearly a social good.
Our modern world doesn’t need any more millionaires or leaders or pastors or soldiers or philanthropists—not primarily, anyway. What the world needs are better lovers—husbands and wives committed to learning the unnatural art of loving another personv
Can you (and anyone who sees this) please pray that I'll be able to get past my pornography addiction and homosexual urges?
Praying for God’s grace and strength is the first step. It’s a grace to just be able to see the sins around us for what they truly are! You will certainly be in my prayers.
Followers, can you lift up this anon’s prayer request with me?
Lord, you are Holy above all others, and all of the strength that we need is in your hands. Sometimes the pain and the fear are too much for us. We know that we don’t have the strength on our own to get through this! We know that we can come to you, Jesus, and that you will hear our prayer. Please, Lord, give us the strength that we need to face the trials of today. We don’t have to worry about tomorrow. If you just give us the strength that we need today that is all we need. Keep us from sinning. Instead, help us to keep our eyes on you. You are the Holy Lord, and all of our hope rests in you. Thank you for hearing our prayer. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hey, could you pray for me? Tonight was a rough night, and I failed Our Lord through my sin. However, He allowed me to see the true worth of another person. Yet again, He triumphs and the day is His. I won't go into much detail, but I'm so grateful things didn't get physical. I told them what I should have told all the others. They were worth more, I insisted. I encouraged them to avoid the hookups in the future. Please pray for both us us. I'm trying, and this blog is wonderful inspiration.
I will absolutely say some prayers for both of you. We’re so blessed to have such a forgiving and loving Father. He’s always there to welcome us back with open arms. God bless!
“Individuals who want to believe that there is no fulfillment in love, that true love does not exist, cling to these assumptions because this despair is actually easier to face than the reality that love is a real fact of life but is absent from their lives.”—bell hooks in All About Love: New Visions (via acherive)
Resistance to abstinence from sex while we date is often underlain by the belief that we ought to have sex before marriage because we wouldn’t buy a car before a test drive. And we do test drive a car, because a car is an object; it’s a means to an end. We need to know before we commit to it that it will serve its purpose, and that it will be worth our investment.
But people aren’t cars.
We are neither objects nor means to ends. We are of infinite value because we exist, and nothing can ever change that. If someone is pressuring you to start off with a “test drive” and prove your value before making commitment it shows that he or she is only focused on sex. But in marriage, we are called as Catholics to mirror God’s “absolute and unfailing love” (CCC 1604). When love is absolute, the beloved doesn’t need to prove how much he or she is worth.
I have heard many people say that they want to know before the wedding that they are sexually compatible with their mate, because discovering that they aren’t could really “ruin” a wedding night. But their quest—contrary to popular belief—isn’t actually for compatibility. If it were, compatibility would have to be static. Any “how to have better sex” advice would be moot. But compatibility isn’t static. Compatibility can be achieved. What the quest is really for, then, is sexual compatibility that’s effortless—compatibility that won’t require practice, patience, or communication. But sex that requires practice, patience, and communication isn’t bad; it is both fueled by and fortifies unity and teamwork, which are healthy in all facets of a marriage.
Other proponents of premarital sex encourage it because in their opinions, it’s important to discover what you like in sex before you commit to sex with one person until death, and to confirm that that’s what you’ll get out of sex with him or her. But pleasure is a byproduct of sex, not a purpose. As Catholics, we believe the purpose of sex is twofold: unity and procreation. We aren’t supposed to unite just because sex is pleasurable; we’re supposed to co-create a pleasurable sexual relationship with a spouse after we have been united with him or her in marriage.
Still others argue that premarital sex is important because “it’s what people do who love each other.” But chastity is for lovers. In fact, said St. John Paul II, “only the chaste man and the chaste woman are capable of true love.” Chastity, which isn’t abstinence but requires it outside marriage, is the virtue that integrates sexuality with the rest of our lives. So when we practice chastity, we neither disregard sex as unimportant in relationships nor revere it as most important. We decide to govern our appetites instead of being governed by them—a practice that frees us to pick marriage partners for reasons more substantial than “good sex,” which, in turn, frees us to fulfill the call to absolute love.
"The Language of Love
A letter to the Catholic families and healthcare providers of the Diocese of Lincoln
Most Reverend James D. Conley, STL
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Twenty years ago, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta stood before the President of the United States, before senators and congressmen, before justices of the United States Supreme Court. She spoke about her work among the world’s poor. She spoke about justice and compassion. Most importantly, she spoke about love.
“Love,” she told them, “has to hurt. I must be willing to give whatever it takes not to harm other people and, in fact, to do good to them. This requires that I be willing to give until it hurts. Otherwise, there is no true love in me and I bring injustice, not peace, to those around me.”
Sacrifice is the language of love. Love is spoken in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who poured out his life for us on the cross. Love is spoken in the sacrifice of the Christian life, sharing in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. And love is spoken in the sacrifice of parents, and pastors, and friends.
We live in a world short on love. Today, love is too often understood as romantic sentimentality rather than unbreakable commitment. But sentimentality is unsatisfying. Material things, and comfort, and pleasure bring only fleeting happiness. The truth is that we are all searching for real love, because we are all searching for meaning.
Love—real love—is about sacrifice, and redemption, and hope. Real love is at the heart of a rich, full life. We are made for real love. And all that we do—in our lives, our careers, and our families, especially—should be rooted in our capacity for real, difficult, unfailing love.
But today, in a world short on love, we’re left without peace, and without joy.
In my priesthood, I have stood in front of abortion clinics to offer help to women experiencing unwanted pregnancies; I have prayed with the neglected elderly; and I have buried young victims of violence. I have seen the isolation, the injustice, and the sadness that comes from a world short on love. Mother Teresa believed, as do I, that much of the world’s unhappiness and injustice begins with a disregard for the miracle of life created in the womb of mothers. Today, our culture rejects love when it rejects the gift of new life, through the use of contraception
Mother Teresa said that, “in destroying the power of giving life, through contraception, a husband or wife…destroys the gift of love.”
Husbands and wives are made to freely offer themselves as gifts to one another in friendship, and to share in the life-giving love of God.
He created marriage to be unifying and procreative. To join husband and wife inseparably in the mission of love, and to bring forth from that love something new.
Contraception robs the freedom for those possibilities.
God made us to love and to be loved. He made us to delight in the power of sexual love to bring forth new human beings, children of God, created with immortal souls. Our Church has always taught that rejecting the gift of children erodes the love between husband and wife: it distorts the unitive and procreative nature of marriage. The use of contraception gravely and seriously disrupts the sacrificial, holy, and loving meaning of marriage itself.
The Church continues to call Catholic couples to unity and procreativity. Marriage is a call to greatness—to loving as God loves—freely, creatively, and generously. God himself is a community of love—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christian marriage is an invitation to imitate, and to know, and to share in the joyful freedom of God’s love, an echo of the Holy Trinity.
In 1991, my predecessor, Bishop Glennon P. Flavin, wrote that “there can be no true happiness in your lives unless God is very much a part of your marriage covenant. To expect to find happiness in sin is to look for good in evil…. To keep God in your married life, to trust in his wisdom and love, and to obey his laws…will deepen your love for each other and will bring to you that inner peace of mind and heart which is the reward of a good conscience.”
God is present in every marriage, and present during every marital embrace. He created sexuality so that males and females could mirror the Trinity: forming, in their sexual union, the life-long bonds of family. God chose to make spouses cooperators with him in creating new human lives, destined for eternity. Those who use contraception diminish their power to unite and they give up the opportunity to cooperate with God in the creation of life.
As Bishop of Lincoln, I repeat the words of Bishop Flavin. Dear married men and women: I exhort you to reject the use of contraception in your marriage. I challenge you to be open to God’s loving plan for your life. I invite you to share in the gift of God’s life-giving love. I fervently believe that in God’s plan, you will rediscover real love for your spouse, your children, for God, and for the Church. I know that in this openness to life, you will find the rich adventure for which you were made.
Our culture often teaches us that children are more a burden than a gift—that families impede our freedom and diminish our finances. We live in a world where large families are the objects of spectacle and derision, instead of the ordinary consequence of a loving marriage entrusted to God’s providence. But children should not be feared as a threat or a burden, but rather seen as a sign of hope for the future.
In 1995, Blessed John Paul II wrote that our culture suffers from a “hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and… a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfilment. ” Generous, life-giving spousal love is the antitode to hedonism and immaturity: parents gladly give up frivolous pursuits and selfishness for the intensely more meaningful work of loving and educating their children.
In the Diocese of Lincoln, I am grateful for the example of hundreds of families who have opened themselves freely and generously to children. Some have been given large families, and some have not. And of course, a few suffer the very difficult, hidden cross of infertility or low fertility. The mystery of God’s plan for our lives is incomprehensible. But the joy of these families, whether or not they bear many children, disproves the claims of the contraceptive mentality.
Dear brothers and sisters, Blessed John Paul II reminded us that, “man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God.” The sexual intimacy of marriage, the most intimate kind of human friendship, is a pathway to sharing in God’s own life. It is a pathway to the fullness of our own human life; it is a means of participating in the incredible love of God. Contraception impedes our share in God’s creative love. And thus it impedes our joy.
The joy of families living in accord with God’s plan animates and enriches our community with a spirit of vitality and enthusiasm. The example of your friends and neighbors demonstrates that while children require sacrifice, they are also the source of joy, meaning, and of peace. Who does not understand the great gift of a loving family?
Yes, being lovingly open to children requires sacrifice. But sacrifice is the harbinger of true joy. Dear brothers and sisters, I invite you to be open to joy.
Of course, there are some true and legitimate reasons why, at certain times, families may discern being called to the sacrifice of delaying children. For families with serious mental, physical, or emotional health problems, or who are experiencing dire financial troubles, bearing children might best be delayed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that couples must have “just” reasons to delay childbearing. For couples facing difficulties of various kinds, the Church recommends Natural Family Planning: a method for making choices about engaging in fruitful sexual relations.
Natural Family Planning does not destroy the power to give life: instead, it challenges couples to discern prayerfully when to engage in life-giving sexual acts. It is an integrated, organic and holistic approach to fertility care.
Natural Family Planning is a reliable and trustworthy way to regulate fertility, is easy to learn, and can be a source of unity for couples. To be sure, using NFP requires sacrifice and patience, but sacrifice and patience are not obstacles to love, they are a part of love itself. Used correctly, NFP forms gentle, generous husbands, and selfless, patient wives. It can become a school of virtuous and holy love.
Those who confine sexual intimacy to the infertile times of the month are not engaging in contraceptive practices. They do not attempt to make a potentially fertile act infertile. They sacrificially abstain during the fertile time precisely because they respect fertility; they do not want to violate it; they do not want to treat the gift of fertility as a burden.
In some relatively rare instances, Natural Family Planning is used by couples with a contraceptive mentality. Too often couples can choose to abstain from fertility by default, or out of fear of the consequences of new life. I encourage all couples who use Natural Family Planning to be very open with each other concerning the reasons they think it right to limit their family size, to take their thoughts to God, and to pray for his guidance. Do we let fear, anxiety, or worry determine the size of our families? Do we entrust ourselves to the Lord, whose generosity provides for all of our needs?
“Perfect love,” scripture teaches, “casts out fear.”
Dear friends, I exhort you to openness in married life. I exhort you to trust in God’s abundant providence.
I would like to address in a special way Catholic physicians, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals. The noble aim of your profession is to aid men and women as they live according to God’s perfect plan. Bishop Flavin wrote that, as professionals, “you are in a position to be God’s instruments in manifesting his truth, and his love.”
No Catholic healthcare provider, in good conscience, should engage in the practice of medicine by undermining the gift of fertility. There is no legitimate medical reason to aid in the acts of contraception or sterilization. No Catholic physician can honestly argue otherwise.
Healthcare is the art of healing. Contraception and sterilization may never be considered healthcare. Contraception and sterilization denigrate and degrade the body’s very purpose. Fertility is an ordinary function of health and human flourishing; and an extraordinary participation in God’s creative love. Contraception and sterilization stifle the natural and the supernatural processes of marriage, and cause grave harm. They treat fertility as though it were a terrible inconvenience, or even a physical defect that needs to be treated.
Contraception attempts to prevent life from the beginning, and when that fails, some contraception destroys newly created life. Many contraceptives work by preventing the implantation of an embryonic human being in the uterus of his or her mother.
Contraception is generally regarded by the medical community as the ordinary standard of care for women. The Church’s teachings are often regarded as being opposed to the health and well-being of women. But apart from the moral and spiritual dangers of contraception, there are also grave physical risks to the use of most chemical contraceptives. Current medical literature overwhelmingly confirms that contraception puts women at risk for serious health problems, which doctors should consider very carefully.
Some women have health conditions that are better endured when treated by hormonal contraceptives. But the effects of contraception often mask the underlying conditions that endanger women’s health. Today, there are safe, natural means of correcting hormonal imbalances, and solving the conditions that are often treated by contraception.
Contraception is an unhealthy standard of care. All doctors can do better.
Catholic physicians are called to help their patients and their colleagues learn the truth about the dangers of contraception and sterilization. The good example of a physician who refuses to prescribe contraceptives and perform sterilizations or a pharmacist who refuses to distribute contraceptives in spite of antagonism, financial loss, or professional pressure is an opportunity to participate in the suffering of Jesus Christ. I am grateful for the Catholic physicians and pharmacists who evangelize their patients and colleagues through a commitment to the truth.
Tragically, a majority of people in our culture and even in our Church, have used contraception. Much of the responsibility for that lies in the fact that too few have ever been exposed to clear and consistent teaching on the subject. But the natural consequences of our culture’s contraceptive mentality are clear. Mother Teresa reflected that “once living love is destroyed by contraception, abortion follows very easily.” She was right. Cultural attitudes that reject the gift of life lead very easily to social acceptance for abortion, for no-fault divorce, and for fatherless families. For fifty years, America has accepted the use of contraception, and the consequences have been dire.
Dear brothers and sisters, I encourage you to read the encyclical by Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae with your spouse, or in your parish. Consider also Married Love and the Gift of Life, written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Dear brother priests, I encourage you to preach about the dangers of contraception, and to visit with families in your parish about this issue.
Dear brothers and sisters, if you have used or prescribed contraception, the merciful love of God awaits. Healing is possible—in the sacrament of penance. If you have used or supported contraception, I pray that you will stop, and that you will avail yourself of God’s tender mercy by making a good heartfelt confession.
Today, openness to children is rarely celebrated, rarely understood, and rarely supported. To many, the Church’s teachings on life seem oppressive or old-fashioned. Many believe that the Church asks too great a sacrifice.
But sacrifice is the language of love. And in sacrifice, we speak the language of God himself. I am calling you, dear brothers and sisters, to encounter Christ in your love for one another. I am calling you to rich and abundant family life. I am calling you to rejoice in the love, and the sacrifice, for which you were made. I am calling your family to share in the creative, active love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
I pray that in true sacrifice, each of you will know perfect joy.
Through the intercession of Our Lady of the Annunciation, the Holy Family, and in the love of Jesus Christ,
+James D. Conley
Bishop of Lincoln
March 25, 2014
Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
 Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. National Prayer Breakfast, 1994.
 Glennon P. Flavin, Pastoral Letter to Catholic Couples and Physicians. September 26, 1991
 Blessed John Paul II. Evangelium Vitae, 13.
 Ibid. 2.
 I John 4:18
 Bishop Flavin.
 Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. National Prayer Breakfast, 1994.”