Maintaining The Integrity Of Our God-Given Sex: Why It Matters

man and woman feet

In my latest post over at CatholicMom, I explore the roots and meaning of our masculinity and femininity through the eyes of St. John Paul II and his great work, The Theology of the Body.  

We all crave love. A gentle touch, an acknowledging look, a tender word. These sentiments all reach to our core. They lift our spirits, they give us confidence, and they fulfill something deep within that relentlessly demands to be satisfied. But why? What is it about this communion with another that can instantly cast light over what we thought was a drab and dreary world? 

Because, within love, lies the remembrance of perfection and the hope of redemption. When we come together with another, we memorialize the “first feast of humanity.” (Theology of the Body 19:6) We remember that moment in Eden when, before the inception of sin, man and woman came together and experienced the ecstasy of intimate union, unmarred by the loss of innocence. A union that “draws its origin from the divine sources of Truth and Love in the very mystery of creation.” (TOB 19:6)

These “divine sources of Truth and Love” reveal that it is through union that self-knowledge is discovered. It is through union that man discovers that he “appears in the visible world as the highest expression of the divine gift, because he bears within himself the inner dimension of the gift. And with it he carries into the world his particular likeness to God, with which he transcends and also rules his ‘visibility’ in the world, his bodiliness, his masculinity or femininity, his nakedness.” (TOB 19:3)  Read more…

Posted in Chastity, Hope, Language of the Body, Love, Marriage, Theology of the Body | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Teaching Our Sons How To Look At Scantily Clad Women

It is the heart that determines ppp quote

I don’t want my boys to avert their eyes from a scantily clad woman.

I want them to look at her, to delight in her, to show her the great value she possesses by the way they acknowledge her personhood.

There is a story of a group of bishops in Antioch who walked past a beautiful prostitute.  All of the bishops averted their eyes out of shame, but Bishop Nonnus said, “Did you see that beautiful woman?  Did you delight in her?  I did.”  And then he wept for her.  He wept for her soul that wandered about, searching for itself.  He wept for the many times that her actions did not reflect her infinite worth.

And as for the prostitute, Bishop Nonnus’ gaze upon her sparked her conversion to Christianity.  She had never had someone look at her with such purity and, suddenly, she knew who she was.  She realized she had a deeper purpose than the lifestyle she was living.   And now we know her as St. Pelagia.

The complementarity of men and women is a delicate balance.  Women so easily play upon the vulnerabilities of men through dress and action, and men play upon the vulnerabilities of women through look and speech.  We may not be fully culpable for the sin of the opposite sex, but we do have the ability to help them become who God created them to be–authentic lovers, creatures of dignity, saints.

Of course, our fallen natures will be victimized by that relentless tempter named Lust.  During those weak moments, we learn to protect ourselves by avoiding certain situations, averting our gaze, and gaining “custody of the eyes.”

But we mustn’t forget that we are not limited to two choices: to look upon another with lust, or to not look at all.  Limiting ourselves to those two choices allows Satan to rob us of the joy of real love and offer us only a stinted imitation.  As St. John Paul II reminds us in the Theology of the Body, “Purity is a requirement of love.” (TOB 49:7)  To really love–to be able to completely give ourselves to another and accept the same in return, we must not take custody of the eyes, but, rather, guard the gaze of the heart.  It is the heart that determines what the eyes really see.

We can teach our children to avert their eyes if they feel the temptation of lust overtaking them, and of course we want to teach them to avoid pictures, magazines, and websites that have the intention of arousing lust.  But we mustn’t give up on their potential for purity.  We cannot abandon the belief that we were created for more.  The body is good and our desires are good, meant to be ordered towards God’s great plan for marriage and love–ordered towards the surviving and thriving of the entire human race and the communion of saints.  This is why we can look upon another person with love and respect, regardless of how he or she is dressed. 

Like Bishop Nonnus, our goal is to be of such purity of heart that all we see in every person we meet is a body and soul, unified and glorified with the light of Christ.  It is when we see others like this that we start to change the world.  It is when we look upon others like this that they realize who they are–not someone shameful, objectified, and disposable; but someone dignified, unique, and eternally worthy.  It is when we know who we are that real love is free to take its course.

One look is all it takes.  One real look–from someone who sees the other as God does: ever in need of mercy and a worthy member of the communion of saints.

Here is more on this topic from Christopher West.

Posted in Chastity, Freedom, Language of the Body, Love, Theology of the Body | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Unimaginable Fast

“This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.  Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.  Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!” Isaiah 58:6-9

Fasting.  It’s meant to cause suffering.  It’s supposed to be hard.  It should cleanse me from my attachments and open my eyes to Who my heart is really pursuing.  But what is God calling me to when He allows an unimaginable fast to enter my life?  A fasting from someone I love?  A fasting from someone who was taken before he or she could even enter this world?  A fasting from someone who, at a mere 7 weeks along, was but a tiny bundle of hopes and dreams, yet capable of capturing all of the love my heart could hold?

It’s tempting to isolate, to wrap myself in a blanket of grief and just dare the world to try to enter.  But this is not the manner of fasting God wishes: “That a man bow his head like a reed, and lie in sackcloth and ashes.” (Is 58:5)  Rather, God calls me to use my pain to unite myself to Him and others like Him.  He calls me to unite myself to those who pick up their cross daily and carry it–those who carry a cross much heavier than mine.  A time of mourning is needed.  But a time of healing is made complete by reaching out to others and staying open to love.  It will take time.  I know there will still be days of sackcloth and ashes.  But even in the midst of this unimaginable fast, my heart continues to try to find its way toward the One I really desire, to trust that my wound will be healed, and to listen with hope for the words, “Here I am!”

Posted in Faith, Hope, Lent, Miscarriage, Works of Mercy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Chaplets: Consolation In A World Of Unknowns

three chaplets

Little Flower Rosary, Chaplet of St. Gerard, St. Philomena Chaplet

When we draw close to the saints, we draw even closer to the Lord.

A friend of mine suffered a brain aneurysm recently.  It’s always a shock when something happens to someone so close to my age.  My mortality is magnified.  I question my priorities.  I wonder if all of my efforts to be a “good person” will be enough to make me worthy of heaven, should the Lord suddenly decide to call me home.

And, of course, my heart aches for family members and friends affected by the sudden affliction of their loved one.  I wish I could fix everything, but feel helpless to do anything.

So what do I do as I wait for God’s plan to play out?  How do I increase my trust in His care when all I want to do is ask Why?

I can cry out to God.  I can offer a Rosary.  But my friend’s situation has inspired me to do more, and it has opened up avenues in my prayer life that I never knew existed.  I’ve felt compelled to call in an army of saints to fight for my friend.  And the weapon in which I’ve found the most strength and consolation is in the chaplets of the saints.

Way of the Cross chaplet

Chaplet of the Way of the Cross

The book My Treasury of Chaplets by Patricia S. Quintiliani defines a chaplet as “a devotion of prayers centered around the recitation of a special type of rosary in honor of some member of the Holy Trinity, of Jesus Christ, of His Holy Mother, of the Angels and of the Saints.”  Some of the many chaplets included in our Catholic Tradition are: Chaplet of the Holy Infant Jesus, Rosary of the Holy Wounds, Chaplet of the Way of the Cross, Little Chaplet of the Holy Ghost, The Franciscan Crown, Chaplet of Our Lady of Guadelupe, Chaplet of St. Michael, Chaplet of St. Gerard, Little Flower Rosary, and St. Philomena Chaplet.  Most chaplets contain various combinations of Hail Mary’s, Our Father’s, and/or Glory Be’s, as well as special prayers of invocation related to the person for whom the chaplet is named.

I’ve been devoted to our Mother Mary and her Rosary for awhile now but the chaplets of the saints made me feel a bit uncomfortable when I first learned about them.  Would they take the place of my daily Rosary?  Should they?  How do I choose which one to pray?  Could I inadvertently elevate the holiness of these men and women above the holiness of Mary, or even her Son?  I couldn’t quite figure out where these saints and their devotions fit into my personal faith puzzle.

But, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us:

“When [the saints] entered into the joy of their Master, they were ‘put in charge of many things.’ (Mt 25:21)  Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan.  We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.”  (CCC no. 2683)

St. Anne chaplet

Rosary of St. Anne

I started to pray a Rosary of St. Anne in earnest for my sick friend.  And my questions about the chaplets were answered.  Most chaplets don’t take much time to pray, so I never felt a saint’s chaplet had to replace my beloved Rosary.  As I learned more about the chaplets and who they were connected to, I naturally felt drawn to different ones for various reasons.  And my fear of somehow becoming more devoted to a saint than to my Lord?  I’ve come to realize that the saints won’t allow this to happen.  They are here to help us and to bring us closer to God whom they love.  When we draw close to the saints, we draw even closer to the Lord.

Most of all, I find great consolation in these beautiful prayers.  I feel more united to the Universal Church, I feel as if my prayer intentions have more purpose, and I feel surrounded and protected by my friends, the saints.

As I wait with patient hope for my friend to heal, I look with even greater hope to the communion of saints.  They are here to pray for us and to obtain answers for our prayers–but, most of all, they are here to show us that the pain and suffering of this life is just waiting to be transformed into the joy and ecstasy of the next.

Resources

My Treasury of Chaplets by Patricia S. Quintiliani

Learn to make your own knotted twine chaplets and Rosaries with the help of http://www.rosaryarmy.com and http://www.rosarymakersguide.org/chaplets.htm

Find a variety of good quality Rosary twine at http://www.number36twine.com/

Saint medals are available at http://www.totallycatholic.com

Posted in Faith, Faith Resources, Hope, Prayer, Spiritual Works of Mercy, Works of Mercy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

TOB for TOTS: A Retreat

TOB-for-TOTS-logo

“The ‘affirmation of the person’ is nothing other than welcoming the gift, which, through reciprocity, creates the communion of persons.” Theology of the Body 15:4

How do we convince our children that they are a gift?  How do we assure them that they hold treasures just waiting to be unwrapped by the right person at the right time?

With an 11-year-old in the house, my husband and I have been feeling motivated to “step it up”.  We see our oldest son, hovering over the line between innocence and knowledge, and we want to ensure that his knowledge will come from honorable sources.  It is our responsibility as parents to take the initiative, to gently prod our growing son into conversation, and to have the guts to bring up topics that may be uncomfortable for everyone.  Because if we don’t, someone else surely will.  Or he’ll pick up all kinds of unsavory information online. 

My husband had been talking about taking our 11-year-old on a “retreat weekend” for awhile.  He wanted to get away where he and his son could bond and have fun, while at the same time, allowing plenty of opportunity for some important conversations.  Knowing that my husband and oldest child would be away for two nights inspired me to come up with a “retreat” of my own for our younger children.

And so, we came up with the following schedule:

Dad and Son

Mom and Younger Kids

Day One

Drive to hotel–car conversation about your changing body (boys and girls)

Play pool at hotel

Watch movie together

Swim at hotel

Dinner

Drive back to hotel–car conversation about the gift of our bodies, the biology of sex, and saving the gift of sex for marriage

Watch another movie-fun at the hotel

 

Day One

Start conversations about “God’s Amazing Creations” while doing nature activities

Make birdseed ornaments

Introduce concept that our human bodies are also “God’s Amazing Creation”

Movie night and popcorn

Day Two

Sleep in!

Play games at hotel

Swim

Read Good Pictures, Bad Pictures together; talk about pornography, other “sensitive subjects”

Go to movie together

Eat dinner out

Day Two

Trip to local children’s health museum–marvel at the miracle of the human body while having fun with interactive exhibits about the five senses, and watch a presentation from Valeda the Transparent Woman as she lights up and talks about various organs, blood vessels, and bones.

Enjoy a chiminea fire and make s’mores together.

Day Three

Review conversations of past two days during car ride home

Day Three

Welcome home my husband and son!

The “schedule” was simple and flexible, but very focused.  I put aside all of my regular household tasks and put my energies into talking with my children and having fun with them.  My oldest son loved the special weekend away with my husband.

My husband said that as soon as he and our son left town on the first day, he knew that the retreat weekend was only the start of many more conversations to come.  But it broke the ice for all of us.  It gave my husband and me the confidence to continue these intense conversations, and it showed our son that we care enough to talk to him about these topics.  It also established us as the experts on these issues–the resource our son can go to when he has questions.  And it was a weekend filled with fun, fond memories everyone.  My son still talks about what a fun weekend it was!

As I told my children, “Our job as your parents is to get you to heaven.”  And I could tell that this was the biggest ‘affirmation of the person’ that we could give to our children–the joy of knowing that we, their parents, believe they are capable and worthy of one day joining God in heaven, and that we are willing to give them all of the tools they need to do that.

Resources

Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids by Kristen A. Jenson

–a book that explains the science behind porn addiction and helps parents start the conversation with their pre-teen children about this important topic.  Also gives a plan of action for battling the temptations of pornography.

Beyond the Birds and the Bees by Gregory Popcak

–written by Catholic counselor Greg Popcak, this book offers practical tips and advice for raising whole and holy children, based on principles from St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.  Filled with conversation starters for a variety of sensitive topics, this is an indispensable resource for Catholic parents!

Posted in Chastity, Family Life, Love, Marriage, Theology of the Body, TOB for TOTS | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

When Prayer “Isn’t Working”

sad woman

We know that all things work for good for those who love God.” Romans 8:28

As the San Bernardino shooting adds to the long list of tragedies in our world, I’ve seen a few posts floating around on social media that seem to imply that the prayers for an end to violence in our world “aren’t working”–that we need to take a seemingly deteriorating situation into our own hands and leave God in the dust.

We don’t understand these types of tragedies.  Free will becomes a complex being of its own when distributed to billions of souls from every race, religion, and culture.  Yes, we do our best to protect our families, our friends, and our country, and we take actions that we are called to take.  But prayer must always remain at the center.

There are times when prayer doesn’t seem to be working, when God seems absent, but is at these very times that great work is being done in the hidden recesses of our hearts.   When we persevere in prayer, even when we don’t feel like it, or when we’re tired of waiting around for God, I truly believe He will bless us abundantly–just maybe not in ways that we expect.

I’ve been blessed with people who have come in and out of my life with inspiring stories that emerged from tragedy.  A near fatal car accident that left one man saying, “I guess God had to break me so He could put me together the right way.”  A girl with a painful neck tumor who taught her family how to trust in God, even when there are no answers.  A mother of a victim of the Newtown Sandy Hook massacre–who now writes some of the most beautiful, inspiring reflections on putting our entire strength and trust in God alone.  And a mother who lives in my heart–a mother who stood at the foot of a cross, pondering instead of wondering, accepting instead of questioning.  All of these “victims” are prayerful people.  All of these “victims” have turned tragedy into grace.

If we give up on prayer, we give up on hope.  If we give up on prayer, our own efforts no longer have meaning or purpose.  It is only through prayer that we know what action to take.  It is only through prayer that we are open to the transformative power of tragedy.  And it is only through prayer that a world threatening to be overcome by shadow can return to the light.

Image credit Ulrike Mai, Pixabay, CCO Public Domain

Posted in Faith, Hope, Mary, Prayer | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

One Hour

don't give up

“Could you not watch with me for one hour?”  Matthew 26:40

Those words pierce me every time I walk through the chapel door.  Once inside, I can’t get away from them.  They’re right there, underneath the monstrance in our Adoration Chapel.  And I can’t escape the thought that Jesus is speaking directly to me.  Not to His apostles, not to the sweet little lady who covers the hour after mine  No, my amazing time-traveling God who is always present to everyone all of the time is talking to me.

And this hour that He speaks of, this one moment in time, this one and only chance…is my life.

God doesn’t exist in time.  He exists in eternity.  He knows me for eternity.  And right now, because of Adam and Eve’s fall, I’m putting in my time.  My free will is being tested.  But on the timeline of eternity, it’s only for a brief moment; it’s only for about…one hour.  I just have to keep watch.

I have to keep watch that my exhaustion doesn’t give in to despair, that my disappointments don’t fester into harbored resentment, that my frustrations don’t result in self-loathing.  I’m human.  I have bad days.  This parenting stuff is hard.  Marriage is not a constant honeymoon.  I get frustrated with myself.  Frustrated that I can’t be a more cheerful caretaker.  Frustrated that I can’t give more to my husband and my children.

But part of keeping watch is accepting the way God made me and learning to work with what I have.  He created me for a purpose that no one else can fulfill.  He created me to do something with my life that will further His plan and lead me to Him.  This may be something big that the rest of the world can see–or it may be as subtle as a turning of my heart.  But nothing I do is insignificant if it leads me closer to my Lord.

So, for this brief time I have on earth–this one hour that God is asking of me–I will keep watch.  I will keep trying.  I will accept my failures as part of His plan and use them to clear a path to greater virtue.  I will look fearlessly into the mirror He holds before me and continue to try to transform my image to match His.  To keep watch for one short hour, for one brief lifetime–it’s all He asks.

Posted in Faith, Freedom, Hope | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment