This doesn’t require much commentary from me–we see it in action right now in the world. The Church has little moral authority in the world, and one of the big reasons (though not the only one) is the sex abuse scandal. We tend to be kind of a passive laity–and I’m pointing fingers at no one, because I feel as powerless and baffled on how to fix things as anyone else–counting on the vertical structure of the Church to fix the problem, while we go on with business as usual. Clearly, it doesn’t work. There *has* been harm inflicted on the spread of the Gospel, and that blame lies with the Church leadership for continuing to bungle and protect itself–but also on us, the laity, for clinging to the way things have always been done, and not stepping up to be more active in our faith and our Church, when clearly the way things have always been done is no longer sufficient for the times and issues we face.
I don’t know what the solution is. But there has rarely been an excerpt that has seemed so clearly written for this moment in time, even though it was written fifty years ago.
There’s been an uptick recently in the expression of a point of view that suggests that since we are citizens of Heaven, not earth, we should not pay attention to earthly suffering or strive to alleviate it. The Church says otherwise.
Listening to today’s daily reading caused me to perk up. What an image James uses to remind his community that simply talking about being a disciple isn’t really being a disciple! Farther down in the reading, he clarifies what he means by “doing something”: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world. What struck me is the both/and of it–social justice AND personal piety. No false binaries here.
My husband and I have been natural family planning users since day one of our marriage. NFP saw us through infertility (the data from the charts facilitated treatment), four babies conceived without medical intervention, and another eight years of charting.
I bring this up because Church teaching on birth control probably represents the biggest sticking point for many people in the modern world–the biggest perceived encroachment on “personal rights.”
I used to be a lot judgier on this issue than I am now. NFP is hard for some people, and often the reasons are not as easily dismissed as many NFP devotees would like them to be. Sometimes it’s physical (tough charts, long abstinence), and sometimes it’s emotional–when practicing NFP causes people to excavate deep, long-standing wounds, wounds with ripple effects that make marital intimacy a point of contention rather than an opportunity for intimacy.
Also, none of us are perfect at the way we use our sexuality. None of us. So I’m less, well, judgy these days.
Nonetheless, I still believe passionately that NFP is a great thing. The self-knowledge that comes from charting has been liberating and empowering to me as a woman, and I see the practice of NFP as a source of healing for a world where relationships between men and women are suffering the wounds caused by dominance. Where sex is used as a bludgeon, mostly by men against women. To use NFP successfully requires two people to respect each other in all their God-given dignity, to hold in honor and awe the total gift of the way the other is made. Not to try to turn off an entire healthy, functioning system of the body.
It’s also a no-brainer for environmental stewardship. Pharmaceuticals go back into the water, and not all chemicals are filtered out. Lawn & agricultural chemicals in the water supply were half of our infertility issues.
And I see the fruits of NFP in my relationship with my husband. The openness, honesty, and mutuality of communication surrounding this most sensitive topic has helped me understand what total security in a relationship means. What true intimacy means.
Which is not to say we’re a happy-happy couple. Those who know us know we pick at each other all.the.time. And sometimes the conversations are hard–it’s not just “do we try for a child or do we try to avoid?” It’s “I don’t feel close to you” and “I don’t want to be close to you when you do X or Y.” It’s “I feel resentful because of Z.”
But we always grow in love because of them.
So this quote strikes great resonance for me. NFP is a big limit, but it’s also freeing–in many ways, but I’ll focus on one: it’s a limit forces the issue of dignity and mutual respect. It’s not that you can’t have mutual respect and treat each other with dignity if you don’t use NFP, because clearly you can. But being successful with NFP–by which I mean “We are equal members of the team,” not just “we didn’t get pregnant”–REQUIRES us to pay attention to issues of dignity and mutual respect.
I haven’t entirely sussed out a satisfactory meaning to this quote, except that the word “wrestle” really resonates. The past several years, my spiritual life has consisted of a great deal of wrestling. When so much darkness is around, how do I make any headway against it? What things must I say publicly, even if they will cause (at a minimum) conflict, and possibly even relationship damage? How often am I clinging to my own opinions and calling them God’s? When are the things I’m so angry about in other people the same offense I’m committing, right in the moment of my anger? Am I complicit in the evils I abhor? How would I know?
These two sentences from Gaudium et Spes reflect a clear-eyed recognition of the reality of the world. Until we pass beyond the veil and can actually see through the eyes of God, we’re all guessing at an awful lot of things, and I think I can safely say this one absolute: NO spiritual life is genuine unless it involves a lot of wrestling and turmoil.
Education is one of those things we, as a society, claim to prize among the most important values. Yet we undersupport it at nearly every level. Preschool is recognized as vital for kids across the board, but especially those “at-risk” because of socioeconomic factors–yet preschool is prohibitively expensive for the people who need it most. Teachers are supposed to be really important, but they’re paid far less than the work they do. (Hey, we do teacher appreciation week, don’t we?) Public education is chronically underfunded. I assume it’s the same everywhere else as it is where I live: a formula which the legislature never, ever fully funds. To the point where, if there’s a surplus, they go down the “tax cut” route rather than consider funding schools. And in the Catholic school system, the formula is usually “pay teachers X% of what local public school teachers are paid.”
Then, of course, there’s the question of parents as the first teachers of their children. We’re all so busy, and there’s never time. And the really tough topics–the hardest ones–are also the hardest to talk about. We know we need to prepare our kids for the challenges to their faith that they’ll face in the real world, but we’d rather protect their innocence as long as possible, which ends up translating as “too long” and “living in a Catholic bubble,” and the end result is that the world ends up forming their view more than we, the parents, do.
A lot of food for thought for us in modern America. If “where your treasure is, there your heart shall be,” what does this reality say about our true priorities? What does it say about what we really believe (as opposed to what we say we believe) about the importance of good education for passing on the faith and living it in the real world?
The whole “mission statement,” so to speak, of Intentional Catholic is the idea that everything we do is connected to faith. Even so, this quote seems almost funny–but also sobering. Because if even speed limits have a faith dimension, then faith really is supposed to form every aspect of life!
What this reminds me of, though it’s a separate issue, is tax shelters, offshore corporations, and tax loopholes. I’ve often heard, in relation to taxes, “As long as it’s legal I’m going to take advantage of it.” But we recognize that just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s morally right (cough-cough-abortion). So using this argument as justification for doing whatever possible to hoard as much money as possible has never sat well with me.