Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Catholic Family Life - In the Bedroom - Part 4

Catholic Family Life - In the Bedroom - Part 3

Catholic Family Life - In the Bedroom - Part 2

Catholic Family Life - In the Bedroom - Part 1

If you start talking about NFP in a group of active young Catholic couples, it won't be long before the discussion starts getting heated. Even spouses seem to get worked up defending their particular take on how and when to use NFP. Sex is a pretty controversial area that goes to the core of the human experience in a way that nothing else can. It's OK to disagree with your friends about pizza toppings and sports teams, but when you start talking sex - things can get uncomfortable.

My wife and I used NFP to avoid pregnancy for the first 3 years of our marriage. At the time, our reasoning was really rather secular. I'm not sure we would have made the same decisions if we knew then what we know now. Our predominant reason was simply that we thought it would be better to have a couple years of marriage to enjoy before we had kids. Really not a very compelling reason in hindsight. A host of smaller reasons were financial, living situation etc.. It's easy for me to see now that most of those reasons are smaller that I thought at the time. I think our secular culture encourages to think that we should wait on marriage and family until we have our lives all worked out, and are financially successful. I think today's economic hard-times might be putting the lie to that philosophy.

After having taken the plunge of marriage and having a family and all the uncertainty, insecurity, responsibility and JOY that came with it I have a different perspective. I say go for it. Don't wait, life is short. Don't count on ever having enough order, money and security in your life to make everything easy. Even if it is easy, it won't necessarily make you happier than struggling.

Anyway, I sometimes feel a little guilty about the time my wife and I spent avoiding pregnancy. There are many who toss out the term "contraceptive mentality" about other couples who use NFP to avoid pregnancy for reasons that are perceived as not really all that serious. The idea being that a couple can use NFP improperly or sinfully. That marriage is to be "open to life" (CCC 1652, 2366-7) and NFP is only to be used to space children for "serious reasons"(CCC 2368) The Catechism of the Catholic Church wisely leaves the discernment of "serious reasons" up to the couple but states in section 2368 that it must not be "motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generiosity appropriate to responsible parenthood."

However, I've found not shortage of fine Catholic folks that will readily share their opinion that many or even almost all couples using NFP to avoid pregnancy do not have a serious enough reason. There is the specter of the 'contraceptive mentality.'

I must admit, that in recent years, as I've begun to see that our reasons for avoiding pregnancy weren't really all that well thought out, and were mainly the secular culture norms of our day, I've felt maybe my wife and I had used NFP inappropriately and committed the sin of having a 'contraceptive mentality.'

Actually, writing Part 3 of this series has changed my thinking significantly. I'm not saying that maybe my wife and I couldn't have made different decisions. However, when I wrote Part 3 I realized that had we taken the approach of planning children immediately and not using NFP to space or avoid pregnancy in anything but the direst of circumstances, I probably wouldn't have learned to be a real Catholic husband and that frequent sex wasn't my right, or necessary for me male ego.

That got me thinking. I know quite a few couples non-Catholic and Catholic who are on the 'whatever God gives us' program. I started thinking abut the men, several of whom I know very well. I realized that sexual problems and attitudes similar to my own distorted sexuality show up in some of these men too and you can see the effects in their marriages. In fact, at least a few of them have had serious marriage problems - separations and a divorce. I don't know enough details, but I have enough clues to speculate. Broadening out beyond families I actually know well, I realize I know, or know of, quite a few Christian families with 6 or more kids that have ended in tragic divorces. Mel Gibson comes to mind also.

This is a tentative thought, but one I think worth considering carefully. Perhaps there are actually dangers to the absolute 'place everything in God's providence' approach to family planning. Maybe that isn't inherently most sanctifying approach.

I'm leaning toward the view that NFP and self-control can be good in and of themselves. And it isn't just for me individually. It is also in the decisions my wife and I made together. We had to learn to listen to each other, and understand each other, and most importantly consider the needs of the other person. I had to learn to accept that my wife was more committed to avoiding pregnancy at that time than I was. Truthfully she always is more committed to avoiding than I am. In fact, early in our marriage my commitment to avoiding evaporated at about 10:00 every evening and didn't return until 8 or 9 hours later. Learning to really respect, and not just grudgingly tolerate my wife's desire to avoid was extremely beneficial to me. The fact that we were in a more challenging than average NFP situation, having to use special rules and not getting many green non-fertile days was actually a blessing (I'll get in to more ways - probably in the next post).

In fact I will say unequivocally that for men who have been severely affected by pornography, promiscuity and related issues, practicing NFP to avoid is more than just practical, it is a highly beneficial if not essential experience for such men growing up and breaking free from the bondage of sexual selfishness.

The Contraceptive Mentality

Now I'm not sure that a 'contraceptive mentality' is really an issue for a couple actually practicing NFP. I think it's easy to speculate about a theoretical couple that is using NFP but is somehow sinfully rejecting God's intended gifts of a child, or another child in their family. In reality, I don't see how that is going to happen. The fact is that practicing NFP to avoid pregnancy is fairly challenging for a fertile couple. NFP promotes communication, trust and understanding between the spouses. The fact that every month the couple has to decide to have intercourse on fertile days or not I think makes it pretty hard to have a contraceptive mentality. When every conjugal act is open to life, even if the couple is somewhat closed, I think the openness of the acts will lead to openness in the couple. When the reasons for avoiding pregnancy are something short of grave necessity, I think the attitude of opposition will soon be overcome by the openness of the acts.

In my own case, my wife used NFP to avoid for almost 3 years. At that point, if anything we were further away from feeling ready for children than we were when we got married. Our economic circumstances were more uncertain, we were living in a smaller apartment, our bank account was smaller. Yet, we had grown together as a couple, and we had grown spiritually. We had gone through some very uncertain and difficult changes in life and learned that we probably weren't ever going to get to the point where we could be certain of providing the ideal life for children. We decided to take the plunge and trust. And it really required trust. Our combined income was less than half what it had been when we got married. We were living in a one bedroom apartment, and we had one working car. 6 weeks pregnant my wife had complications and had to take leave from work so we lost even more of our income. Yet, we didn't have any problem at that point joyfully welcoming a child into our family.

You know, it all just works out. It isn't always easy. Expect the unexpected. Trust in God, open your heart to Jesus, say a Rosary and live. Life is precious life is sweet. And Babies are the best gifts of all.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Catholic Family Life - In the Bedroom - Part 3

Catholic Family Life - In the Bedroom - Part 1

Catholic Family Life - In the Bedroom - Part 2

Living out God's plan for me and my wife in marriage is the most difficult thing I have ever attempted and stuck with. Practicing NFP isn't an easy thing, and it hasn't been easy in my marriage from day -120 the beginning of our 4 month engagement when we started learning the Creighton Method. Picking up a box of pills or getting my wife a shot of depo provera looks like it would be a whole lot easier. We had at least 8 sessions with our teacher before the wedding, and we were told we really didn't start early enough because we weren't going to be fully trained in time for the wedding.

The honeymoon was a brutal call to mortification. It turns out my wife isn't the text book model case of NFP. She had irregular cycles, strange mucus, later it turned out a progesterone cycle imbalance and the 6 or 7 days of abstinence per month that I expected turned out to be something like 20 or so initially. And the Honeymoon. 10 days, and not one "green" (definitely non-fertile) day. Not what I had planned for my honeymoon.

Not having intercourse on my honeymoon probably saved my marriage. If it hadn't been for NFP, and our uncompromising Creighton Method teacher I honestly believe my marriage would have ended years ago. I would have caused my marriage to fail because without NFP I would have not learned what marriage was about. In my selfishness and my pornographic mentality I would have used and abused my wife as an object.

Bear with me for a minute.

Our most basic human need is a relationship with our Creator. There is nothing we can obtain, possess, experience or receive that will satisfy this need. The very heart of the fall is the precisely the weakness of "falling for" the deceit that something out there will increase our happiness. We become driven to search for more, seeking to increase ourselves, our dominion and our comfort. It also takes the form of attempting assuage our insecurity, fears and uncertainty through reliance on creation and our own cunning and manipulation instead of God.

None of us is ever entirely free from this disease of the soul. Saints and truly holy servants of God practice mortification of the flesh. By abandonment to the Divine Providence, acts of the will, and the corporal works of mercy they seek to be fulfilled in relationship to God. They practice rejecting the lie that some better satisfaction can be found in any other way.

When I refuse to mortify my passions, I lay myself open to the slavery of sin. Quite literally refusing to mortify my desires for more pleasure, security, and comfort coupled with holding onto my fears is the source of all my addictions and my bondage to selfishness. No matter how hard I pursue satisfaction through anything other than God I will always need more and I will always be unsatisfied.

Yet, even though I already know the truth.. It is still easy for me to slip into the belief that just a little indulgence will be better than actually trusting in God. Whenever I find myself in the middle of any one of the 7 deadly sins - that is why I am there. I believe for that moment that I can get more peace and satisfaction and comfort from gluttony, or pride, or lust than God will give me if I just trust in Him. And in the end I will always find that I've been chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There is nothing there.

The path to holiness cannot in any circumstances be found in anything except conforming my will to God's will. Marriage is my vocation, and the path to holiness for myself and my wife. We have promised to love each other, and through our love glorify God and help each other to grow in sanctity. That means that my marriage and family is the primary venue in my life for mortifying my disordered desires and coming to trust more fully in God.

Here's a quote from in article on the Huffington Post blog from just today (my emphasis):

Nobody likes abortion. That is not the question being debated. Prevention, not abortion, is the vastly preferred method of family planning. Abortion is an invasive surgical technique, physically and psychologically traumatic, expensive, and potentially dangerous. Whereas responsible adult sex should be as frequent as desired, unwanted pregnancy should be exceptional rather than routine. Part of the adult responsibility commensurate with having an active sex life is prudent and careful use of contraception. Abortion should not be viewed as a contraceptive given the procedures emotional and physical complications. However, if an unwanted pregnancy occurs, a women's right to choose her own reproductive destiny must be protected.
The abortion issue is ancillary to this discourse, but I leave it in because it makes good context. The only "responsibility" is to try to avoid unwanted consequences - children.

There is the essence of a "contraceptive mentality" (I use the quotes because this is a term we'll need to deal with in a later post). I should have an unrestricted right to enjoy sex and avoid any undesired consequences. It may sound course and extreme and I am positive a nice contracepting Catholic will argue that they love their spouse as much as I love mine and that ..... But that is the deceit. That is the lie. Look at the truth. As I ended Part 2 of this series borrowing from Boettger's Blog:

Contraception was NOT invented to prevent pregnancy as there was already a fully effective way to prevent it which, again, I’m confident all of you are practicing as you read this column: abstinence. Contraception was invented to sterilize the fertile period so that if the urge to have sex were to arise during that period, neither the man nor the woman would need to muster up the energy to deny that urge in the fear of pregnancy.
Contraception serves one and only one purpose: allowing adult sex to be as "frequent as desired" without those pesky unwanted pregnancies. And even this promise is hollow because contraception fails and abortion is necessary as a backup.

Once again, the lie of contraception is that "my marriage will be happier and more satisfying if my spouse and I can enjoy sex at will while managing to avoid the responsibility of having more children." And this is a lie because it is precisely the path of avoiding mortification, seeking to wrest our own happiness and satisfaction from the world and denying ourselves the opportunity to trust in God to provide for us. This is not simply because we should want another child or be open to life. It is primarily because we insist on having it both ways. We refuse to trust God to provide us the capacity to love and raise a child and we refuse to accept that we can live a satisfactory life by mortifying our sexual appetites and seeking to trust in God. This in the end denies the primary purpose of marriage - the rearing and education of children, and the secondary purpose of marriage - helping each other to grow in holiness. To contraception of the conjugal act is to "fall for" the lie of the serpent and believe that there is something better than God.

Back to My Honeymoon

Although I'd fully accepted the Church and had become a pretty active Catholic who accepted the authority of the Magisterium and I was seeking to trust in and follow God's law, I still had (and still have) a lot of growing to do. I'd begun the process of getting free from pornography and everything that goes with it, but I wasn't completely free. With 3 years of sobriety from alcohol and drugs I still hadn't learned much about surrendering my selfishness.

I still had a self centered pornographic mentality with regards to marital sex and my wife. Our Honeymoon forced me, yes forced me to confront that mentality - even though I didn't know it. I remember praying in my frustration, and the thought coming: "Why did you marry this woman?"

Surprise! Surprise! SURPRISE! I didn't marry my wife to have Sex! That's right. I didn't marry my wife to have sex. I married my wife because I love her, and I want to be with her. And no matter how hard things are, it is her that I want to struggle through it with. If something were to happen to my wife or me today that made sex impossible for the rest of our lives, it wouldn't change anything.

I had to learn to trust God in a lot of ways. I learned to trust God that I didn't need to have sex. I learned to trust God that there wasn't some better way to get satisfaction.

It took a while, but I had to learn that my wife is not an object for me to use for my pleasure. In the first few months I did continue to attempt to mold her into my pornographic sex life. It failed miserably. If it hadn't been for NFP I wouldn't have been able to know better, and I would have destroyed my marriage trying to make my wife live up to the fantasies I'd poisoned myself with.

The first three years of our marriage NFP was constantly frustrating. Together we discussed our options, and I certainly thought about the alternatives myself. That moment from the 8th day of our honeymoon stuck with me. Having learned about NFP, and knowing that it is possible to identify when a woman is fertile it became impossible for me to make my wife unnaturally and synthetically sterilize herself so I could use her body without accepting that God had designed her to bring life into our marriage.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Catholic Family Life - in the Bedroom - Part 2

Catholic Family Life - in the Bedroom - Part 1 Another interesting blog post by Boettger

I need to make clear that I am using the term "Natural Family Planning" or NFP very loosely and some will probably object to that. People who know will point out that NFP is 99.7% effective when followed and that NFP is based on observations and the couple communicating and deciding whether they wish to achieve or avoid pregnancy. Just "not contracepting" is not the same as practicing NFP. Sorta kinda following the directions is not practicing NFP. So I know I'm not being really accurate. My reasoning is that NFP or Natural Family Planning is easier to say, and communicates what I mean better than any other term I can think of. The most accurate statement is probably "families who sincerely try to practice Catholic doctrine for marriage" or something like that, and a lot of people who have to deconstruct that to figure out what I meant.

I'm not sure any of the 9 families I'm close enough with to have any inside info on are really practicing NFP. I know two of the couples who are currently pregnant, and another couple with recent twins were seriously charting and planning on avoiding pregnancy. Two of the families in our cohort have actually been practicing the other NFP - NO family Planning, those are the two with 9 and 7 kids. Please pray for both of those families. In each of them one of the spouses is saying enough we need to use NFP and their spouse thinks another 5 or 6 kids is no problem. I should point out that both of these wives are just barely 30, so they could have another 7 conceivably. Also, in one couple it is the husband and in the other couple it is the wife that isn't worried about how many kids they have. This is seriously straining their marriages. The other four couples are somewhere in between and actually practice NFP periodically to space births although they are having large families by today's standards. But even these couples find NFP to be very challenging to practice.

I have to admit also, that for the past 2 years my wife and I haven't really been practicing NFP, we've been practicing AFP - Abstinence Family Planning or maybe CFP - Celibacy Family Planning. That is because for us the abstinence isn't the hardest part of NFP. The observations are the hardest part. And I think this is the problem for the couples that keep getting surprised. If the wife doesn't make good observations, and remember what they are, and remember if she forgot to observe, and honestly admit she forgot and the husband doesn't help record it on the chart there is a great likelihood of a surprise. I'm not about to try to conduct in inquiry with my friends, or accuse them in person, but I'd bet Dollars to Donuts that observations weren't recorded honestly.

My wife and I were originally trained in the Creighton Method of NFP - which I still highly recommend and would suggest over Couple to Couple league and other organizations. What I like about Creighton is that it is very scientific and medically based (not saying sympto-thermal is not scientific or dissing C2CL). Creighton just invests a ton of hours in educating their teachers, and following teachers and clients. Creighton also conducts institutes to train doctors in "Napro Technology (probably another post).

The advantage to me is that the Creighton teacher/coach will really be hard on the client couple. They are trained to ask a series of hard questions at each session and really look for any fudging. It's really about honesty and accountability. If you want to practice NFP seriously, you can't be deceiving yourself and fudging the rules.

Whether you are using the Mucus only method like Creighton or Billings, or the Sympto-Thermo like C2CL, observing the woman's vaginal mucus during the pre-ovulation phase of the cycle is the critical piece of NFP. Creighton teachers stress over and over that observations have to be done every prescribed time with no exceptions or the whole day goes down as a "missed observation" which means you must assume the day is fertile and wait three days of completed observations with no signs of fertility before having intercourse.

This is the part that I know has been toughest for us, and at least a few of our friends. I've heard plenty of "woman talk" about the subject and it seems to be universally agreed that it's a pain. I also think it is the most likely suspect for where some couples might be fudging at least a little.

In my marriage at this time we just can't do this. My wife is working full time (I'm home with kids) and doing graduate school. Even before, she had a hard time remembering to observe every time she used the restroom, and remembering what those observations where. It was always easy for her to get confused with "was that yesterday, or today." Now, with her other focuses, she just isn't able to commit to doing that. And for the same reasons, we really feel the need to avoid pregnancy for another few months at least. Thus, our method is abstinence. It hasn't been Total but I'm a little nervous that others, even close friends would be pretty critical of our decision, since it is pretty extreme.

This post on the moral difference between contraception and NFP just happened to show up today. I like this:

Contraception was NOT invented to prevent pregnancy as there was already a fully effective way to prevent it which, again, I’m confident all of you are practicing as you read this column: abstinence. Contraception was invented to sterilize the fertile period so that if the urge to have sex were to arise during that period, neither the man nor the woman would need to muster up the energy to deny that urge in the fear of pregnancy. It is precisely this truth that opens new horizons of understanding between contraception and NFP. While contraceptive sexual acts risk enslavement to the sexual urge, NFP frees one from the all-too-real threat of sexual addiction through periods of abstinence. This makes NFP not only permissible but even virtuous! After all, one’s ‘yes’ is meaningful only when one has the self-mastery to say ‘no.’ However, this level of self-mastery is impossible outside the grace of God concretely and most powerfully manifested through the sacramental life of the Church! May God be Praised!
I think for families in the past once a certain age and a certain number of children was reached, relatively long stretches of abstinence was probably not that unusual, and I don't think my wife and I have a "contraceptive mentality" for precisely the reason stated in this quote combined with the fact that I know we both are not totally closed to having another child, we just have grave enough reasons at this time that we prayerfully believe that we are doing the right thing by avoiding pregnancy at this time.

I'm not sure what we will decide in the near future. We will still have several concerns about having another, and also we both would enjoy another baby. My wife is now over 40 so there are questions and concerns we haven't considered much in the past. Knowing that the end of our fertility as a couple is in sight brings a little urgency to the circumstances.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Catholic Family Life - in the Bedroom - Part 1

It's not exactly a trend and certainly not a "fad" but by my impression starting about 20 years ago, the modern Natural Family Planning movement began to break back into the mainstream of Catholicism - okay we're still working on that. Anyway, that's when people I know started using NFP.

Now, after 12 years of NFP marriage myself I want to begin sharing some of my thoughts and experience and wisdom with NFP. I think this will be at least 4 parts, and may become an ongoing theme for this blog.

Before I begin - I really want to ask you all to pray for NFP families. Especially three families I know that in their own unique ways are struggling with how NFP is 'working' for them. Praise God for the blessing they have experienced in their families that they would have missed if they had contracepted. But also pray that they remain strong as they face the challenges that have come with those blessings.

My Perception - Where my Friends are after 10 tp 15 years of NFP

My wife and I are close friends with 9 other NFP families that we have known for around the length of time we've been married. We also are more casually acquainted with quite a few other faithful Catholic families. I think that gives me a fairly representative exposure to the experiences, struggles, blessings and opinions that might be common in families that have been using NFP for a decade or so.

Living out an authentically Catholic Marriage in the bedroom is no piece of cake! At this time, 3 of the families in our 'cohort' are expecting, and none of them was intentional. This will be child 9, 7, and 5 respectively for these families. 2 of these families have been actively giving us second hand clothing because they were 'done' - ooops. It's one thing to be 'counter cultural' and pass on many of the luxuries and treats that most families around us take for granted. You get used to not eating out, wearing second had clothes, driving 10 year old cars, camping and staying with relatives for vacations. But.. it gets hard when you have to dig even deeper. When the 8 passenger minivan isn't big enough anymore. When you can't fit the whole family into the dining room at once. When you've taken 2 pay cuts, had your overtime eliminated, had your hours cut, and the house you could barely afford and that felt too small 2 babies ago needs to make room for 1 more. What do you do?

So right now I am praying for my friends. I'm praying because a couple of them sound like they are considering the unthinkable. I'm praying because they are stressed. I'm praying because the financial balance they've been struggling to maintain is looking more and more impossible. And I'm praying for my marriage because our own need to space births for the past # months is being achieved at a cost that may be straining our relationship. I'll get into details of that (vaguely) in another post.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Extremists Perceptions and Perspective

In a despicable and cowardly attack a man named Scott Roemer shot and killed Dr. George Tiller inside his Lutheran Church in Kansas City, KS. It was murder, pure and simple. People are right to condemn Roemer's actions. They are right to condemn this violence. I pray for the family of the victim and for his soul.

This is front page Head line, top of the hour news but not because it was a murder, or even because it happened in a Church. This is lead story news because Dr. Tiller was a focal point in the abortion controversy. Instantly, we are all tittering to find out who did it; we assume it can only be about abortion. Because it is about abortion, this murder is important.

A little perspective.

This week, here in the Northwest a Mother threw her two kids off a high bridge into the Willamette river, killing her 4 year old son while her 7 year old daughter amazingly survived. In another incident a father shot and killed his two kids in a nature preserve. Just tonight a teenage young man was shot and killed in a local park.

A few months ago, a gang member shot another gang member in a local church during a funeral. There have been dozens of shootings and murders in the past year, just in this region.

These murders don't make it past the local news. They don't get national attention. Even the funeral murder didn't get more that a few passing mentions in the wrap up section on the late news.

The perspective? These murders are no more or less wrong, outrageous, objectionable or tragic than the Dr. Tiller murder. Yet 100s of such murders are occurring across the country and it's not cause for every politician to speak out about it.

A Little More Perspective

The news about this murder is because it is wrapped up with abortion, but even more importantly, it's wrapped up with the specter of 'right wing' 'extremist' domestic terrorist anti-abortion protesters.

The perspective? An estimated 100,000 people and 8 Catholic Bishops marched on the mall in the nations capital on January 22, 2009 (here are a few pictures) it was barely covered at all in the national media, and none of the evening news shows carried any video.

Here in the Northwest, on the Saturday before over 7,000 people gathered for 4 hours of prayer, and speaking in Pioneer Courthouse Square in the center of downtown Portland and it got absolutely no coverage - yes you heard me - absolutely no mention in the LOCAL paper or on the LOCAL news. Nada, zip....

A little over a month ago we finished the "40 Days for Life" in 129 cities in the United States with groups praying in front of abortion mills for 12 or 24 hours each and every day for 40 days. How much media coverage did that get? We pray in front of our local Planned Parenthood location one day every week year round and that is never on the news. At literally hundreds of locations across the country thousands and thousands of pro-life warriors pray week after week with no news coverage.

We have a pro-life cenacle rosary group every Thursday with 10 to 30 people attending and thousands of other parishes around the country have pro-life prayer groups. Knights of Columbus groups host hundreds of pro-life events every year.

None of this is ever on the news.

Some Real Perspective

39 people decided to protest at Notre Dame by defying the university and taking their protest on campus. The scenes of their arrest was carried live by the cable news channels and was shown on every national news program for 3 days.

1 man acting alone commits a horrific crime and before any details are known the "anti-abortion extremists" are front and center on the news.

Dozens of prominent pro-lifers issue immediate statements denouncing the murder and the murderer and condemning violence but the one quote Fox news can't resist is the Randal Terry quote.

I Do Have a Point

The point is that people are very bad at putting things in perspective. Virtually everyone is more nervous about flying in an airplane than driving a car - despite the fact that they are much more likely to die in a car accident. People are generally afraid of nuclear power and anything nuclear, but they don't mind riding a bicycle without a helmet, or talking on a cell phone or even texting while driving.

So they form a perception that most "anti-abortionists" are a bunch of kooks. They certainly aren't reasonable like the nice spokespeople for Planned Parenthood.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Why do you have Faith in the Church?

Fixed two broken links to Kepha

When I've allowed myself the time to visit with Mormon (Later Day Saints) missionaries part of their approach is always "Read the 'Book of Mormon' and you will know the truth of it in your heart." I usually don't get much further than that with them, because I launch into "the truth is just what I feel?" etc.. I firmly reject the idea that I personally have the ability to figure out what is, or isn't true based on how I feel. I also do not believe that I am, or ever will be spiritual enough for God to infuse me with His spirit so I can interpret scriptures and know the truth. I believe that my faith in God, in Jesus, in the Resurection, the Virgin Birth, the Immaculate Conception and Papal Infallibility is not and can not be based only on my personal feeling.

Unfortunately I have been reading too many blogs. There are a lot of people out there who are trying to figure out the Truth about the Catholic Church. On Fides Quaerens Intellectum one of the contributors is a Catholic Theology student trying to find a rational foundation for his faith - right now it looks very possible he could lose his faith. Kepha's blog contains a pile of incredibly useful arguments and debates between Theology students from diverse view points. On another blog Almost There Stacey is a non-Catholic, married to a Catholic who is drawing close to the faith, although not at the high altitude level of Kepha and his bunch, Stacey is struggling with the same discussions. Yet another blogger the InternetMonk is a Southern Baptist Minister whose wife is in RCIA. IMonk is not going to become Catholic, but he has spent much of the last year struggling with similar questions to Kepha and Stacey.

Following all of these stories over the last year has forced me to examine my own faith. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not doubting my faith, or going anywhere. My interest is in understanding why some very intelligent and relatively open minded people fail to find faith in the Catholic Church, and why some well informed people lose their faith. Also, I examine and try to understand what it was that tipped the scales for me. I'd like to be able to tip the scales for someone else.

When I look back on my own 'conversion' to orthodox Catholicism I find that I am pretty similar to Stacey and Kepha. I read and studied about all the claims and teachings of the Church. I started out inclined to listen to the dissenters, but eventually became convinced by the defenders of the faith. I became convinced, and am even more convinced now, of the truth of the Catholic Church. But has my conviction grown out of the irrefutable superiority of the Catholic position? No, it hasn't. My faith rests on something less, and at the same time something more than logic and scholarship.

I am not a skilled or well informed Theologian and I am not particularly inclined to extremely systematic research. Kepha and IMonk provide very thorough, and sophisticated debates. One thing is clear to me, there is no argument for the Catholic Church that can overcome every objection. A key quote from a post on Kepha's blog:

Catholics, not excluding learned ones, are far more disposed to seek modern consensus as a sign of primitive authenticity, than they are to seek in primitive authenticity a ground for modern consensus. This will appear as either a vicious circle or a begging of the question unless it be viewed in the full light of all that the Church means to the Catholic, a light that is neither wholly nor principally the light of natural reason. Thus Newman in 1837: “How hopeless then it is to contend with Romanists, as if they practically agreed with us as to the foundation of faith, however much they pretend to it! Ours is Antiquity, theirs the existing Church.” And thus Newman in 1874: “For myself, I would simply confess that no doctrine of the Church can be rigorously proved by historical evidence: but at the same time that no doctrine can be simply disproved by it.”

The context of that quote is towards the end of a long, deep discussion of the dogma of the Assumption and the application and understanding of Newman's theory of doctrinal development. Soon after Kepha expressed his frustration with the logical foundation of the Church's claims in this dialogue demonstrating what is referred to as "Catholic Presuppositionalism":

  • Rome: I’m the one true Church.
  • Paul: How do I know this?
  • Rome: Because I’m telling you.
  • Paul: You realize that Orthodoxy claim this as well?
  • Rome: Yes, but they’re not.
  • Paul: How do I know that?
  • Rome: Because I’m telling you.
  • [Paul begins looking through some books.]
  • Rome: What are you doing??
  • Paul: You apparently think much of yourself, so I’m searching and testing your claims according to the Tradition.
  • Rome: That’s a rationalist approach! You can’t expect there to be proof for my claims.
  • Paul: Are you saying there is no proof?
  • Rome: I am the proof!
  • Paul: I understand you believe that, and that is why I want to see what others have said about you, as well as what you have previously said about yourself.
  • Rome: You tacitly assume that the content of Tradition can be fully and reliably identified independently of what I tell you.

Similar issues arise in both of the other blogs I have mentioned. The number of times IMonk has accused me and other Catholic commentors of "presupposition" lead to a series of inside jokes.

After all this, I am forced to admit that my belief in the Fullness of the Truth proclaimed by the Catholic Church is based on more than mere logic. My faith is not weakened in the least, but I have to ask "Am I Catholic only because it FEELS true to me?"

Now I'd like my friends in the Blogosphere (all three of them?) to answer that question also That means you too Jason.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs?

I am one who looks for signs. Signs that I am on the right track; that I am following God's will. Actually, that's a distortion. When I am paying attention to signs, I am actually projecting that God will make this endeavor (whatever it is) succeed.

When I was just out of college, and looking for that first job, I was out shopping resumes, praying before going into each business. When one delivery went well, it was tempting to see a divine plan in me getting that job. When it was followed by a great interviews I again wanted to project - "this is a sign, it's God's will. I'm going to get that job."

When I do that sort of thing, I am making a mistake. What I am doing has nothing to do with God's will. It might well be that it was a special part of God's plan that I have a good interview, but that just might be it. Maybe I needed the confidence boost for the next interview, or maybe I just needed the practice. It is presumption for me to try to anticipate where God is going to lead me, especially when I always choose to anticipate the 'good' outcome, not the one that looks hardest or the possibilities that aren't very attractive.

The solution is that I have to constantly pray to accept God's will, what ever it may be. I particularly must pray to accept, and even be grateful for the 'undesirable' outcome. Then I can focus on just doing those thing in front of me, regardless of what might come of some event.

I got a lot of practice with this when I met my wife. There was a lot of uncertainty. Geographically in particular, and also urban vs. rural we were far, far apart. It was so tempting to believe that I knew God's will, because it seemed so obvious - all the signs were there. The truth was that I was having the opportunity to learn about having a healthy relationship. Every time I called her, or saw here I had to pray: "God, help me to serve her and support her. God help me to learn about a healthy relationship. Thy will be done." It turned out that we did get married. The prayer still comes in handy at times.

That's what I have to do with this Blogging deal. I got a little attention and positive feedback for a Blog post. It's tempting to think that God's will must be for me to become a great blogger, and a mini-celebrity. I have to remember that I can't know what God has planned for me or anyone else. I can't know what God's purpose might be in my Blogging. God might be indifferent, Blogging doesn't have much of anything to do with the work he has in store for me. Maybe God just used that one post to help one person, and now its done, move on.

Prayer: God, help me to serve You and Your people with my blogging. Help me to learn about You, and help me to practice my writing. Thy will be done."

THE FACT THAT I THINK that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.

Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

So today I Blog...Tomorrow I plan to blog

A Brief Review and Intro to Twitter

I've been doing Twitter for about 3 weeks now. I like it. What's it good for? Connecting with people I'd otherwise never connect with.


Col. Potter: Cigar Radar?

Radar: No Sir, My Ma says they're habit forming.

Col. Potter: I've been smoking 3 cigars a day for 40 years and I've never developed a habit.

Radar, taking a cigar: That's good to know Sir.

In that vein: I've been Tweeting 6 hours a day for the past month, and I haven't gotten addicted yet.

5 Steps to start Tweeting: 1) sign up, 2)log in 3)look for the Twitter T symbol on some of your favorite sites and click on it, 4)Tweet me @GNW_Paul, 5)hangout

My wife helped me come up with this analogy to compare Twitter and Facebook. Facebook is like a formal banquet with assigned seating at tables; you have to know somebody at the table to but into, or listen in on the conversation. Twitter is like a giant cocktail party where you can overhear multiple conversations and butt into at will; the problem is filtering out and focusing on any particular conversation. In a sense, Twitter is like a giant ChatRoom, except that you can follow the same people over a long time, and you can go back and see what they said, unless they restrict access. Also, in Twitter it is very easy to post links to blogs, or websites or videos or pictures to enrich the conversation.

The heart of Twitter is "everybody." When you set your filter to "everybody" you see every public post that is being posted on Twitter, by anybody, to anybody and about anything. Anyone can drop in on any conversation. I haven't spent much time following "everybody," but I have watched a few times just looking for something interesting.

You don't probably want to 'listen' to everybody, so there are two ways to filter out something you want to pay attention to. The main way of filtering is to find some people you know, or who share similar interests, and then "follow" them. When you "follow" somebody, you see every Tweet they post. If you were following one person, you would see only the Tweets from that one person on your home page at Twitter. However, if that person is having a conversation, you only see one side of the conversation. You can "follow" the person on the other end of the conversation, and then you can see the whole thing. The more people you follow, the more Tweets you see, and the more conversations you see, and sometimes it can get hard to follow who is taking to whom, about what. But somehow, it seems to work out!

So part of Tweeting is following. The other part is getting followed so that people are listening to you. There are 'entrepreneurs' out there who are somehow trying to make money by get 10,000 followers. There are spammers. And there are egomaniacs that somehow thing 5,000 followers will cover up their feelings of inadequacy. There are also some real, important people like Sen. Patrick Leahy, who naturally have 10,000 or more followers.

As a newcomer, getting a few follows is a good thing, because it would be nice to think that somewhat might actually read your tweets. If you follow someone with a common interest who doesn't have more than 200 followers, they will usually follow you back, then you have someone following. Post some tweets. Say something interesting, post a good link, comment on someone else's tweet, and you will build some followers. A good way to expand your network is to check who is following the people you are following, and follow some of those people.

The other way to filter is by groups. I don't totally understand groups, but there is a search page (Not linked or tabbed off your main Twitter page) http://search.twitter.com which you can use to search for any topic. Groups use special tags preceded by the hash (or number) symbol like #catholic #prolife #TCOT (Top Conservatives On Twitter) #24 (the show) etc. You can use these tags to find information, people to follow, and to make your own Tweets show up to people who might be looking for them.

If you sign up for Twitter, and type @GNW_Paul and a message of introduction, I'll do what I can to hook you up.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

WOW! Thanks! Thank you Jesus!

I'd like to get something up tonight. I've been working on a substantial post, but it isn't coming together - needs more prayer as much as anything. I didn't put enough time into prayer today. The kind of posts I want to write must come from a place firmly rooted in prayer and focused on Jesus Christ through our Blessed Mother. I'm just not there today.

I am a little overwhelmed by the success of the first segment of my conversion story. I Tweeted about it on Twitter at about 2:00 AM. I thought maybe 5 or 10 of my followers on Twitter might take the time to read it. I don't have access to stats on this blog (yet), but I'm comfortable in assuming it was at least an order of magnitude greater than 10. Thanks especially to Jeff Miller for featuring it on the Curt Jester. Thanks also to Toby Danna for giving me a Premio Dardos award. Thanks to the people who have followed and commented.

I also want to mention my very good friend Jason, who unknowingly followed the link from The Curt Jester and recognized my story! For now, I'll stay with not revealing my last name or exact location, but please know that its not because I'm not being honest!

I've been fantasizing about starting a variety of Blogs for at least 5 years. I tend to be obsessive compulsive, and a perfectionist, and grandiose so it has never happened because I want to design my own site, host it, make it great and I plan to do it all by myself. That's two more defects of character - self sufficiency and difficulty appraising how much work is involved.

Two weeks or so ago, my friend George who was raised Episcopalian, turned nondenominational Evangelical and now is praying the Rosary and Chaplet of Divine Mercy and exploring Catholicism got me talking about Bl. Charles de Foucauld on a phone call. I wanted to give him some information, and on a whim decided to make a blog, and write a post, just to accomplish that (obsessive compulsive). I didn't bother to make it too pretty and mainly copied and pasted from a couple of sources.

Now I had a Blog! A few days later, I had something on my mind and wrote a post about it and Tweeted it. Last Thursday night I read Adoro's post on her first debate defending the pro-life position and was inspired to finally start writing my conversion story. I'd been thinking about it for a week, since reading an installment of Proud Catholic Daughter's conversion story.

I have some ideas for further posts. As I said I'm working on one dealing with conversion in the sense of spiritual healing and spiritual growth. A particular focus will be on how each person's journey is going to be different, and that we need to be cautious in expecting sudden and dramatic spiritual experiences for ourselves, or if we have experienced one ourselves, expecting other to have one too.

One of the dreams I have for this Blog is to develop a place where there is dialogue. My model for this is a Blog called the Internetmonk, by an Evangelical SBC minister, whose wife is converting to Catholicism. I made my first ever comments on a Blog trying to answer IMonks questions and debating with a variety of non-Catholic viewpoints. There have been a very lively series of discussions, and it is not uncommon to get 100 comments on a topic.

Thanks again, and God Bless. Pray for me that I follow God's will in this and all my endeavors. One of the hardest things about trying to follow God's will, is accepting God's purpose in a particular event might be very different from what I want to think. That will be tomorrow's post!!!

I'll be praying for all who have visited this Blog.


Monday, January 26, 2009

What you might want to know if you are thinking of following me on Twitter

{note: I've revised this a little. I'm not too proud of how strident, and uncharitable it sounded after I read it a few days later. I toned it down.} If you are thinking about following me on Twitter, Great. Here is a little about me. I care about having people follow me who are interested in what I am saying, or the same people I am listening to.  I don't care if I have 20 or 20,000 followers if they are just following me to boost numbers - don't we ever learn about bubbles people!  I generally follow if you look like a real person.  The more followers you have, the less likely I am to follow you, unless you particularly interest me.  You'll notice that my profile includes #TCOT #Catholic #Prolife. You will also notice that my Bio says "politically eclectic," if you aren't sure what eclectic means, look it up. Eclectic is not a synonym for conservative. I have varied views, I voted third party 6 presidential elections in a row. I have tended more conservative over the years. I am not, and probably never will be ideologically committed. I have some views that are very inline with the current GOP conservative ideology:
  • I am unequivocally prolife - no exceptions except to save the Mother's life
  • I am pro traditional marriage
  • I am pro family values especially interested in the media
  • I am moderately pro Gun
  • I support concealed carry
  • I generally find merit in arguments for small government 
  • I am opposed to the far left in general
I have some views that most people would classify as liberal.  I have some views that are so far out there that neither party will touch them.  I don't intend to spend most of my time Tweeting about politics.  I am more interested in pro-life and the Catholic Faith.  However, I am interested in politics.  I find the #TCOT movement very interesting.  I am intrested in following what you all are talking about, what the ideas are, and at times throwing out my 2 cents.  I've already noticed that followers drop off immediatly after I post anything that doesn't conform to the 'conservative' ideology.  Fine.  To those of you who are actually mover's and shakers out there, I'd reccommend you listen to me a little.  Not because I actually know anything, but because there are a lot of voters out there who call themselves conservative that aren't lock step, and there's a lot of independents that are eclectic like me.  If you want to sit in a closed chat room and agree with each other about pure conservatism, go ahead, but my opinion is that you're more likely to win elections if you know how to talk to people in the middle. I don't think conservative group think and conformed conservative ideology will help you much in 2010 or 2012 unless the Democrats have as many PR disasters as we've seen the past 8 years 

Friday, January 23, 2009

My Catholic Journey - Episode 1 - Please God, Please Don't Make Me Be an Abortion Protester

Prolouge: Although I am a cradle Catholic, and have never completely lapsed, I have a 'conversion' story that isn't over yet. My relationship with God, Jesus, The Holy Ghost, Mary and the Catholic Church has been quite a Journey. Along the way, I've been associated, at least briefly, with everything from outright Sedi Vacantists (The Chair is empty - code for Pius the XII was the last Pope and the followers are somehow not actually Popes, and the chair is vacant) and SSPX (Society of Saint Pius the X- a semi-schismatic group who's Bishops have been excommunicated; devoted to the Traditional Latin Mass and pretty much rejecting Vatican II) to Rainbow Masses with Archbishop Hunthausan in Seattle. Latin, charismatic, liturgical dance, Gregorian chant, ...I've pretty much been part of it all. Most of my associations with the most extremes 'traditional' and 'progressive' have been brief.

My Journey on Abortion

I don't really recall thinking about abortion before my first year of college at Seattle University (A 'progressive' Jesuit Catholic College). My family was outspokenly, solidly and very actively Democratic on my Dads side and I was strongly influenced in that direction. My Mom's family were old fashioned John Birch Society conservatives. Although I loved my Mom's family when it came to politics, I thought they were just a bunch of bigoted, ignorant farmers. Democrats were clearly the educated, enlightened and 'right' voters, party and ideals. So, I don't recall anything in my formative years that exposed me to pro-life views. I don't recall ever discussing it in Church or CCD. I grew up in the 'larger' cities of Montana, and classmates were generally from conservative families. I remember in 1980 in the 8th grade being the only kid that would speak up for President Carter. So, maybe I picked up something by osmosis or there are things I don't recall.

When I arrived at Seattle U, my abortion opinion was to my memory a blank slate. Shortly after school started I met a girl at a party and began a sexual relationship with her. After 'getting to know each other' for about three days, she asked me what I thought of abortion. Honestly, I don't know where my answer, or anything that followed came from (except maybe Divine Grace. After some thought (seconds?) I said "Abortion is wrong, its killing, its a sin." DD was not content to leave it at that, she pursued the question. Should it be legal? Is someone who had an abortion an evil person? I said something about it should be legal, because I can't impose my religion on someone else (I must of listened to something somewhere). Keying in that this was more than a casual conversation, or even more than a polite exploration of the issue, I answered more carefully on that last question. I said something about people making mistakes, and forgiveness and repentance.

It turned out that she had aborted her baby only a few months before. She hadn't told her parents, or her Catholic all girls high school friends. The only one who knew was the father, who had paid for it, but who had been away at college. By this time (less than a week after I met her) we were doing the dorm room shuffle: I moved in to her room, her roommate moved in with her boyfriend, who's roommate was 'living' with his girlfriend off campus. I had already learned that every night, between 3:30 and 4:00 DD would have incredibly intense nightmares, and would seem possessed (truly and apt description) and demand to be held. It would take half an hour to calm her down. It was a couple weeks before she told me the night mares were about babies and children. Over the following few weeks I learned a lot about Post Abortion Syndrome, although I didn't realize what I'd learned until years later.

DD was an exceptionally smart, and extremely beautiful girl and sophisticated as well. She had money and style. Most of the time she projected the epitome of confidence and capability. But I soon learned that she was extremely vulnerable, and needy. Over a few short weeks she demanded more and more of me emotionally, yet at the same time she held be at a distance. Sometimes she needed me to literally hold her hand to do the simplest, mundane things - like walk a few blocks to work - and other times she would send me off to party with my friends and disappear for hours, or even more than a day. We were college freshmen, and drinking and partying was part of the life, and I was certainly one of the champions, but I began to be concerned about DD.

Finally, I realized a few things. First, DD was using drugs. Second, DD was 'seeing'her ex, the father of her baby. Third, DD was using drugs. Fourth, that DD wasn't just careless about 'protection' but that she really seemed to be totally reckless - if things kept going she was going to be pregnant, and I'd be the father. The last three things took me a decade or so to digest, but DD was using me to act out sexually in dangerous (adventurous) ways, she was self destructive, and she at some level was trying to get pregnant. I suddenly realized that I wasn't prepared to be a Daddy, I couldn't participate in an abortion, and I couldn't handle what I'd gotten myself into. I threw in the towel, literally. For a long time I felt very guilty about just how that ended, but I now realize something inside me knew what needed to be done, and I did the best I could. (As a reaction to that, I began making plans for the seminary - clearly a less than perfect candidate - that led me to Rainbow Masses at St. James Cathedral but that will be another chapter)

I still didn't have any knowledge of pro-life positions and logic. I still held conflicting opinions that I seem to have just plucked from NewsWeek. I didn't have a clue that something called "Post Abortion Syndrom" existed. But I knew from experience that abortion is ugly and it isn't good, and abortion isn't good for women. That didn't quite make me pro-life, but it was a start.

Skimming over the next eight years. I walked out of that adamantly against abortion for me, my child, my girlfriend, or my sister but followed my cultural cues that for anyone outside of that, it's their own business, law of the land, etc. It wasn't enough to change me heart or my actions. I had three more sexual relationships outside of marriage over the next 6 years. One was on and off over 3 years with a woman who was initially married. There were at least two pregnancy scares during that one, as far as I know she never was pregnant but in hindsight I don't know, she knew I would oppose abortion. In the midst of one of the 'off' periods in that relationship, I had a brief relationship with another girl who did get pregnant (contraceptive failure). I have a 19 year old son as a result (that will be another installment). Fortunately, I was very supportive of birth and the mother was not inclined towards abortion, unfortunately I didn't follow through and stand by my child or his mother until a few years later. After both of these relationships had been over for a couple of years, I entered into another sexual relationship with a young woman. At this point I already had one child that I wasn't being a Dad to, I knew what it felt like to look at 18 years of responsibility.

CB and I had a pregnancy scare, we experienced a contraception failure. This woman was an adamant and vocal feminist and involved with Wicca. There was no way she was going to have a baby. To my great shame, I was very fearful of the prospect of another child. I still really opposed abortion, but I didn't see the morning after pill as an abortion. I made plans with CB to drive to Canada the next day to obtain the morning after pill. Fortunately, her period arrived before we left. However, I was that close to materially cooperating in obtaining an abortion.

Within a few days of this, my grandfather passed away, somewhat suddenly. At the Rosary vigil Our Lady grabbed me by the heart and she wouldn't let go, even though I tried to run. (during the intervening 3 years I had been drifting around 'progressive' parishes, exploring Tibetan Buddhism, and regularly visiting a Shaman, and participating in Native American Sweat Lodges as well as checking out Episcopalian Churches) With no conscious understanding of my motivation, I stopped spending nights with CB, and went back to my apartment. When Sunday came, I was at Mass. I began avoiding CB. Finally she called me out, and I incoherently explained that I just couldn't continue, that I'd started going back to Church, and that I was thinking about becoming a priest. That was enough for her, she never wanted to have anything to do with me after that.

Still, I wasn't pro-life. I was in more or less the same place with respect to Abortion. I had learned one thing. IF I DON"T WANT A BABY, I CAN'T HAVE SEX. and If I have sex, I better have enough respect for the woman to want her to be the mother of my child and want to share that responsibility. Apparently I always learn best from personal experience.

Over the next two years I really made an effort to grow as a Catholic, and committed myself to being Catholic. I also committed myself to chastity which in practice at least meant that I stayed out of relationships for 3 years. I drank my last beer in April of 1993.

During this time I began to try and study and understand Catholicism. I found "Seeds of Contemplation" by Thomas Merton by 'accident' in the college library. I discovered the full set of the Catholic Encyclopedia. I read a biography of Dorothy Day. And, I began following debates on alt. religion.catholic. I couldn't understand why we couldn't have married priests, women priests, gay priests, gay marriage, or contraception. I was OK on abortion though, at least for Catholics.

For months I followed those alt.religion.catholic arguments. There were about 10 orthodox participants who were regular. There were maybe 5 dissident participants who were consistent. Over time I realized that every other week or so, one or two 'newbies' would subscribe to alt.religion.catholic and come out shouting how backwards the Church was. The newbies and the regular dissidents would start trotting out the arguments and the defenders of the faith would start quoting the documents, and the dissidents would start quoting parts of Vatican II and Hans Kung and disputing what was Ex Cathedra and what wasn't and it would go on and on for four or five days. So little has changed.

I was always rooting for the dissidents. As I read, and as I consulted the Catholic Encyclopedia and whatever (very meager) resources I could lay my hands on, I began to see a few things. The defenders always had tighter logic, and they were always patient. The dissidents seemed like they had a lot of ammo, but they always seemed to end up grasping at straws in the end, and they were most often very rude. I wasn't convinced, but I was getting a little desperate.

At the same time, I was attending daily Mass, had started praying the Rosary Daily, started going to Bible studies. But Most Importantly, I began to pray: "God Increase my Faith." The one prayer that I believe God will always answer positively. I fell in with the Madjougorie crowd, and got acquainted with some traditionalists. I went to confession with a visiting Monsignor who wore a Cassock and hammered me on pornography. As a result I began going to weekly confession.

I was attending a very 'progressive' (actually that's being polite, it was a dissident) Church. A college parish. The Priest was nice, but seemed annoyed by my frequent requests for appointments for confession. I was attending RCIA to learn about the Church although I was already confirmed (a product of excellent 1970's CCD). A couple who were in the same department at the University was converting - scientists and atheists becoming Catholic. The subject of contraception came up, and the Priest just waved it off. "All you have to do, is follow your own conscience." Nothing about studying, praying , trying to understand, properly forming your conscience or anything. Even the dissidents on alt.religion.catholic would admit that you needed to actually read Humane Vitae, and pray about it - at a minimum.

I was absolutely shocked and appalled. I still feel sorry for that poor couple and wonder what ever happened. That was the turning point in a sense; at least one of the big ones. I could never really trust the dissidents after that, because in practice in the pews, it turned into a bunch of HoKum.

In the next year or so, the news began to filter out that the Catechism of the Catholic Church would be released in English - someday. It turned out to be long delayed. It might be hard to imagine, but back in the stone age days of usenet, we didn't have Humane Vitae on line! I was in a small, mostly protestant town that didn't have a Catholic book store. I'd never even seen one single papal encyclical! The 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia was my only semi-decent source and it was 75 years out of date.

In 1994 I met the woman who would become my wife and practiced chastity (very difficult); I bought a copy of Humane Vitae at Kaufers Catholic Bookstore in Spokane, WA, and EJ gave me a copy of the newly released Catechism of the Catholic Church for Christmas. We spent the weekend before Christmas at a romantic lodge on Willowa Lake high up in the mountains of eastern Oregon, sitting beside the fire, watching the snow pile up, and reading, studying, reading, praying and being absolutely blown away.

It Made SENSE. Catholic teaching on human sexuality and contraception and marriage and family made SENSE. About a year later, I was still chastely courting EJ and a small announcement appeared in the weekly newsletter of the Catholic Hospital where she worked. DR. and Dr. Billings were going to give a workshop for physicians on Natural Family Planning. Although designed for professionals, the workshop was open to all staff. We went. EJ asked, "You don't really think we might try to do this?" I said, "We have to at least learn about it, and then pray about it." Four hours later, we both walked out of there 100% committed to NFP, and feeling robbed, cheated and lied to by the media, the culture and most of our authority figures.

By this time, I would say in hindsight, I was pro-life. But .. But .. But. I believed in pro-life, but I wasn't engaged. Back in the dissident parish daily Mass days, there had been one guy. One Guy from my Physic Department who usually attended daily mass at the more traditional church, but sometimes, could only make it to the dissident Mass. This guy was such a wacko! Even though we all sat on couches, and everyone, including the Priest sat through the whole service on this circular sectional in the Fireside room, and used the coffee table as an alter. This wacko insisted on kneeling on the FLOOR, without a kneeler. And even worse, he was an abortion protester. He kept getting arrested, and about every other week, there he was on the front page of the Daily Comical, getting drug off to jail. This guy would even drive to Billings, or Missoula, or Salt Lake just to stand out in front of an abortion clinic, or chain himself to the door and get arrested. What a WACKO.

And when that Priest said "just follow your conscience" and I prayed for an increase in faith,. When I knelt in that chapel and said "God, I'm going to trust you, and your Church. I don't get it, but I'm just going to trust you." I also prayed, "But please God, please, don't make me an abortion protester." A few years later, when I read the Catechism with the woman God made for me, I prayed, "Thank you God, for teaching me, for giving me faith, for the Church and for John Paul II." I also prayed, "but please God, Please don't make me be an abortion protester." And when I walked out of that NFP workshop and went home to say my prayers, I thanked God for teaching me, and giving me faith, and I added, "but Please, Please Please God, don't make me be an abortion protester."

About a year later, I had married my wife. We were practicing NFP. I was free during the mornings and enjoying getting back into daily mass. I drove up to St. Joseph's at 8:45 and pulled into a spot next to the Grand Knights truck. I saw the "Stop Abortion Now" signs in the back. I said to myself, "that's good those people are going to pray the Rosary in front of Planned Parenthood". At 9:45 after Mass, I got in my truck and I saw the signs, and I thought, "that's good, those people are going down to pray the Rosary at Planned Parenthood. I'm glad they do that." At 10:00 I was sitting at my kitchen table, eating cereal, and reading the paper, and I thought, "those people are down there praying the Rosary in front of Planned Parenthood." Then a thought that didn't really belong to me: "what are you doing?" I ignored it, but it came back: "What are you doing, they're praying the Rosary in front of Planned Parenthood. What are you doing?"

At 10:10 a very uncomfortable newbie was holding a sign, standing in the cold, praying the second decade of the Rosary in front of Planned Parenthood. This week I rode heard on three beautiful children to two pro-life rallies, and they are totally comfortable praying the Rosary out in front of Planned Parenthood.

Praise be to God!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What Kind of Catholics Are We?

Conservative, Liberal, Traditional, devout, cafeteria, dissident, ... There seem to be plenty of labels. None of them seem to communicate who the people I know are as Catholics. A few years ago I was meeting with the veteran priest newly assigned to my parish. Fr. Clay Meyer was a very erudite academic. Observing his art collection and library I thoughtlessly asked if he was conservative, he was not impressed with my question. His firm answer was that he was Catholic (period). To his thinking he explained, labels were not helpful.

A recent article by David R. Carlin on InsideCatholic and the dialogue in the com-boxs below seem to demonstrate some of the limitations of our labels. Todd, an experienced voice in these debates (read the posts through the 40's) heads up the "liberal-Catholic" defense against Carlin's allegation that liberal-Catholics have:

  • de-emphasized Catholicism's supernaturalistic elements (for secularism is resolutely naturalistic);
  • amended Catholicism's super-strict sexual morality (for secularism is sexually permissive);
  • stressed the social-justice aspects of Catholic morality (for secularism is a great believer in a form of social justice);
  • embraced, albeit while misunderstanding, Catholicism's teaching about the ultimate authority of conscience (for secularism strongly believes in something it calls "conscience"); and
  • rejected the notion that the leaders of the Church (i.e., popes and bishops) are entitled to teach with authority (for secularism is strongly anti-authoritarian).
When you make these amendments to Catholicism, you get Catholic liberalism, a religion strikingly different from historical Catholicism; a religion, moreover, that is moving on a slippery slope toward outright atheism.
Todd in particular, and others raise some substantive points, but much of the com-box chatter revolves around the labels and what they mean. It is clear that Carlin is using liberal as a shorthand for a particular group of activists within (or on the fringe, or on the cutting edge) the Church. The near equivocation between liberal-Catholicism and secularism makes matters worse.

Actually, using secular terms like liberal and conservative to define Catholic viewpoints is part of the confusion. I'd say it is just as difficult for 'conservative' Catholics to filter secular thinking out as it is for 'liberal' Catholics.

What am I? I am a Catholic and I have really grown to dislike labels. Every label covers up as much information as it provides and carries all sorts of assumptions. My faith as a Catholic is a journey, and I have been down some roads through all of these territories.

I think it would be more helpful to identify with Saints, devotions, prayers, and books fill our Catholic lives. Even the absence of most or all of these communicates volumes about what kind of Catholic one might be.

I'll go: I am a Slave of Mary (St. Louis Marie de Montfort) St. Jude, St. Francis, Charles de Foucauld, St. Michael, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa, St. Therese. Devotions: Our Lady of Sorrows, the Rosary, Liturgy of the Hours, daily Mass. Books: The Imitation of Christ, The Cloud of Unknowing. Authors and Noted: Jacques Martain, Dorothy Day, Peter Marin, James Schall, Scott Hahn, Ralph Martin, Sr. Ann Shields.

There's a lot more, but that provides a general flavor. I am just plain Catholic and I'll take ALL of it. God, through the sacrafice of your Son Jesus Christ, change our hearts that we may be ONE.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Blessed Charles de Foucauld and the Prayer of Abandonment

Charles de Foucauld is a somewhat less well known figure in the Church. He has not been canonized a saint yet. I find him interesting because of his squandered youth. He is also informally considered a patron of failures, because he was a failure in everything during his lifetime. I stumbled upon his Prayer of Abandonment probably 20 years ago, and have been a devotee ever since.

Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures - I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul: I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.

A quick excerpt of his biography:

  • Born Sept. 15, 1858 in Strasburg (France), into an aristocratic family, whose motto is "Never back". He receives baptism at the time of his birth.
  • Charles had one sister, Marie, 3 years younger than him.
  • His parents die, in close succession, in 1864. This remained a deep wound for Charles.
  • The orphans were put into the care of their maternal grandfather, Colonel de Morlet, who is a kind but weak man.
  • After the Franco-German war of 1870, France lost Alsace and Lorraine. The family moved from Strasburg to Nancy, and chose to remain French.
  • He attended secondary school in Nancy, then in Paris, with the Jesuits where he obtained his baccalaureate and began preparing for Saint-Cyr (a military school). He was dismissed before the end of the year on the grounds of laziness and unruly behaviour. By his own account, he lost his faith at age 16, on finishing high school.
  • 1876: He entered Saint-Cyr.
  • 1878: His grandfather died in February, leaving him heir to a considerable Fortune, which he squandered. He entered the Saumur Cavalry School in October, and finished as 87th out of a class of 87, in 1879.
  • At school, he led a riotous life, indulging in unruly and eccentric behaviour (leaving his post while on sentinel duty, dressing up as a beggar). He drew and read a lot to improve his education.
  • 1879: While stationed in Pont-à-Mousson, he continued to squander his wealth, led the high life, and was seen with a woman of ill-repute, Mimi.
  • 1880: His regiment was sent to Algeria. He took Mimi with him, passing her off as his wife. When the fraud was discovered, the army ordered him to send her back. Charles refuses, preferring to be suspended and removed from duty. He went home to France and settled in Evian.
  • 1881: Hearing that his regiment was involved in dangerous action in Tunisia, he abandoned Mimi, asked to be reinstated, and joined a new regiment in the south Oran area.
  • For the next 8 months, he proved to be an excellent officer, praised by his superiors as well as by the lower ranks.
  • 1882: Fascinated by Northern Africa, he resigned from the Army and settled in Algiers in order to prepare for an exploration of Morocco. He learned Arabic and Hebrew.
  • June 1883 - May 1884: He travelled across Morocco secretly, disguised as a Rabbi, under the guidance of Rabbi Mardochee. His life was in danger on several occasions. He was impressed by the faith and religious devotion of the Moslems.
  • 1884: Charles thought of marrying while in Algiers, but he broke off the relationship because his family disapproved of the marriage.
  • 1885: He was awarded the gold medal of the French Geographical Society for his reconnaissance of Morocco.
  • 1885-1886: He travelled to the oases of Southern Algeria and Tunisia.
  • 1886: He went home to France, and wrote "An exploration of Morocco".
  • He led an austere, ascetic life.
  • He questioned himself on the inner life and spirituality. He went into churches, without any faith, and repeated this strange prayer: "My God, if you exist, let me know you".
He experienced a conversion, and I'll copy from Wikipedia for the summary of his religious life and its conclusion.
1890 he joined the Trappist order, but left in 1897 to follow an as yet undefined religious vocation.He went to the Holy Land and became a gardener for a group of nuns. It was then suggested to him that he be ordained. He returned to Algeria and lived a virtually eremetical life. He first settled in Beni Abbes, near the Moroccan border, building a small hermitage for ‘adoration and hospitality’, which soon became the ‘Fraternity’. For Charles wished to be, and was seen to be, a “brother” to each and every visitor, whatever their religion, ethnic origin or social status. Later he moved to be with the Touareg people, in Tamanghasset in southern Algeria. This region is the central part of the Sahara with the Ahaggar Mountains(the Hoggar) immediately west of there. Charles used the highest point, the Assekrem, as a place of retreat. Living close to the Touareg, and sharing their life and hardships, he made a ten-year study of their language and cultural traditions. He learned the language and worked on a dictionary and grammar. His dictionary manuscript was published posthumously in 4 volumes and has become known among Berberologues for its rich and apt descriptions. He formulated the idea of founding a new religious order, which only became a reality after his death, under the name of the Little Brothers of Jesus.

He was shot to death by passing arab rebels December 1, 1916 outside his Tamanrasset compound against the general background of uprising against the French colonial power and the world war. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on November 13, and is considered a martyr of the Church.

One more link: More Biography