Monday, November 2, 2015

A New Focus: Resistance

Today's (November 2, 2015) Vortex is different.

There's no pencil-twirling, and no Vortex music.

It's an important message, and you should watch. 

Occasionally, I'm tempted to jump back into the fray and start blogging again, but I can't go there. What I think or write isn't all that important to anyone, really. What IS important is the faith. Now more than ever we need to know our faith.

One way to gain that knowledge is to watch the other programming on Church Militant - not just the Vortex. There are many good programs, old and new. They are worth watching. (My current favorite is "Houses Built on Sand", which is all about heresies that have come and gone and come again in the Church.) 

Sign up for a premium account with Church Militant. Support the Church Militant Apostolate...even if you don't like MV's hair. He's hitting the nail on the head, and he knows what he's talking about.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

NFP Awareness Week Conclusion: Heroic Parenthood

The theme for Natural Family Planning Week 2015 is I want to recommend once again an excellent article entitled “Heroic Parenthood”, by Christopher Gawley, which can be read here in Christian Order magazine.

I’m closing out my “NFP Awareness Week” posts with an excerpt from that article:

The Solution Stated: Heroic Parenthood and the Cult of Embracing Large Families

Simply stated, the idea of "responsible parenthood" sells the faith short and is pregnant (pardon the pun) with concepts that are inconsistent with Catholic heroism. We should not settle for "responsible parenthood" but aspire for "heroic parenthood." Our Lord did not come so that we may have a dispensation or a life centered around infertility; he came for us to have an abundant life.

…More than any other visible social institution, large Catholic families contradict all of the ill-conceived assumptions of modernity. They are, as it were, a collective middle finger to an anti-culture that would tell us that God is dead, that man and life are worthless, and that it would be better if we were never born. The shining radiance and exuberance of large families is a living, breathing rejoinder to the dour and childless chorus. But large families are more than a counter-cultural expression, they epitomize Catholicism in practice because the parents are blessed by living out their married vocation in the fullest sense. God's blessing of children and fecundity itself seems to be a forgotten part of this debate

…. We have an answer to those who would maintain that life should be little more than a titillated distraction before rotting into nothingness: they are a death people that want to organize society around preventing babies, killing babies, killing disabled people, and killing old people. Their world is a more than a social malaise: it is gripped by despair and thirsting for living waters. We have to offer the living waters of the Gospel; we are a life people and nothing communicates our trust in God, our love of life, our belief in each other than our unconditional embrace of children. The world will be re-converted by such families.

Mr. Gawley ends with this Postscript:

While it would be virtually unthinkable that a diocesan marriage preparation program might say something as follows, we can still dream:

For you young Catholic people who are marrying in your twenties, you can expect, God willing and absent a physical impairment or grave reason, to have a home filled with many children. You should mentally, physically and spiritually prepare for seven, eight, nine or more children given your ages. You should be prepared to accept the hardships that come with having a large family for two important reasons; children please our Lord and your cooperation with the Lord in bringing forth new souls will in turn please our God, which will bring you many graces. Second, having a large family will help you be saved, it will re-focus your attention from the material attachments that are both rampant today and hazardous to your eternal destination. Your many children will help you to become better and holier people and will stand as a contradiction to a world that has forgot how to live the abundant life. You, and your large faithful families, will turn the tide against the scoffers and misanthropes who would revile God's creation and man's place in it. We cannot promise you it will be easy because it won't, but if you persevere in prayer and virtue, you will overcome with God's grace. And should you live to see your children's children, you will praise God all the more that he saw fit to give you the gift of faith.

Have life and have it abundantly — have children.

Friday, July 24, 2015

NFP Awareness Week: The Great NFP Debate

The theme for Natural Family Planning Week 2015 is When I started writing about NFP, it was from the standpoint, basically, of “something is wrong with NFP”.  There were a couple of things to do with methodology – the lack of modesty associated with the teaching of it and even the practice of it; and the apparent failure of the movement generally to address the fact that NFP is to be used only for “serious reasons”. When these points are brought up to NFP promoters, the debate degenerates into a serious of clarifications and straw-man arguments. NFP promoters say: 

  1. NFP is licit, and anyone who argues against the use of NFP is a dissenter at best, a heretic at worst.
  2. NFP is not the same as contraception, so there is and can be nothing sinful in it.
  3. Only the couple themselves can decide, after “prayer and discernment” whether they have a serious reason to postpone conception.
But these are not, in fact, the important issues, because in reality, these are not the issues that lie beneath the intuition of many faithful (and usually traditionalist) Catholics that there is something wrong with the NFP mentality, the NFP “way of life”.

The issues listed above can be dispatched quickly:

  1. I agree that NFP is licit; that does not mean it is required, nor does it mean it is virtuous.
  2. I can agree that there is a difference between contraception and birth control; NFP, technically, may not be contraception, but it is certainly, unequivocally, birth control.
  3. The “conscience” argument can be refuted on a number of points; however, for the sake of argument, and to make the point that there’s something wrong with NFP, let’s simply allow any reason to stand as valid.  I’m not arguing about precise definitions of “serious reasons”; I’m aiming to show that there is something inherently wrong with the promotion of intentionally sterile sex as a means of birth control.
The issue lies more with the attitude underlying the promotion of NFP. Take, for instance, the USCCB’s expressed desire that every diocese have an NFP program, and that all couples seeking to be married in the Church be required to take an NFP course. Are the bishops assuming that every married couple will have serious reasons not to welcome all the children God desires to send them? Consider also a program called “The NFP-Centered Parish”, which is problematic in its very name: why would we want a parish to be centered on a method of regulating births that should be used only for serious reasons?

There is good reason to believe that such an attitude reflects the Church’s attempts to become more “modern”, to address the current issues in secular society, and to appear as a compassionate Mother who takes into account Her children’s trials and tribulations, rather than a Holy Mother who insists on certain standards of behavior, on a willingness to sacrifice, that will get Her children to Heaven. Pope Pius XI saw the dangerous potential of artificial contraception entering the Catholic world when the Protestants hesitantly allowed its use for their own congregants, and he promulgated Casti Connubii in order to combat it.

But not too long afterwards, with the world (especially the US) clamoring for “population control”, and with women seeking more and more to have jobs and careers outside the home, and with financial affluence becoming more attainable and therefore more desirable for many families, the question became, “How can Catholics limit the number of babies they produce without violating Church teaching?” Indeed, the “Majority Report” of the Papal Commission that was convened to discuss the issue of birth control was of the opinion that Church teaching on this issue should be changed. And of course, the outcry and the dissent waged against Humanae Vitae and the upholding of Church teaching against contraception made it clear that in the US, Catholic theologians and clergy had been convinced that the large Catholic family should become a thing of the past.

Pope Paul VI made some dire predictions – all of which certainly seem to have come to pass – regarding the consequences of artificial contraception being loosed on the world. General moral decline was one of those predictions, and there can be no doubt that that has occurred. And really, that moral decline focuses largely around the issue of sex – and mostly this concern with sex revolves around a perceived “right” to engage in the sex act without having to worry about the naturally-intended consequence of that act: the conception of a child. Divorcing procreation from the pleasure of the sex act has resulted in a perceived “right” to have sex in whatever way one chooses: pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, homosexual “sex”. And talk of recognizing the “legitimacy” of sex with minor children and even animals has become far from rare in the media. Society today is consumed with the apparent need to talk about, and engage in, sex.

Before things reached their current state of moral corruption, though, Catholic theologians were trying to figure out how to ensure that married couples could engage in the marital embrace without having babies. And today, the moral disasters of the secular culture notwithstanding, the Catholic world can also be said to be divorcing procreation from the sexual act itself. Only, in the Catholic case, we call it “natural”.

I don’t think NFP is “natural”; I think it’s a concession to concupiscence and (typically) an excuse to limit the number of children a couple “chooses” to have. “Natural” would be a married couple loving each other and expressing that love in the conjugal embrace regardless of whether that happens on a “safe” day. “Natural” would, in most cases, mean a large family. We need more of those!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

NFP Awareness Week: Why You Should Have Another Baby

The theme for Natural Family Planning Week 2015 is There seems to be quite a stigma against “just having babies”, and the medical profession tends to push the contraceptive mentality of our society; it is very difficult for young couples to overcome the pressure from the family doctor. Add to that the pressures from within the Catholic community; even here we find the negative comments about large families, and the notion that a couple should be “pray and discern” whether they should be open to pregnancy each month. These couples are facing an uphill battle against the prevailing opinion of society!

Yet, we already know God’s will for married couples: they are to be open to life, unless a serious reason exists to avoid pregnancy. A commenter on another post noted (my emphases):

In fact, married couples don’t have to prayerfully consider whether they should have another child unless they are practicing NFP to avoid a child, in which case they have a moral obligation to prayerfully discern each month [whether] they still have a serious reason.

We must remember that our true home is in Heaven, and we must use our time here on earth to take us a little further along the path that leads us to God. We grow in virtue and holiness by conforming ourselves to God's will, not by conforming “God's plan” to our will. We have lost a sense of what it truly means to sacrifice for the Kingdom. Having a large family involves willingness to sacrifice, but I believe the benefits are huge.

I posted the following article is from the Population Research Institute a couple of years ago. The PRI gives permission to share it freely. But please visit their website for information to fortify you against the myth of overpopulation!

Ten Great Reasons to Have Another Child

Reason #1: Have another child to join with God in the creation of an immortal soul.

Parents are given the incredible opportunity to assist God in the creation of an immortal soul. As the late Cardinal Mindszenty said, even the angels have not been given such a grace.

“The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral—a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body...Even the angels have not been given such a grace! What is more glorious than this—to be a mother.” Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty

Reason #2: Have another child to bring joy into your life.

There is no joy like the joy of welcoming another child into your life. You will marvel anew at how perfectly formed your little one is, and over how quickly you will fall head over heels in love with him. You will be enchanted with every tiny aspect of her appearance. The color of her hair, the shape of her nose, and the winsomeness of her smile will occasion endless happy debates about from which side of the family (yours, of course) she got that adorable trait.

The birth of a child will bind you to God more tightly than ever before, in awed gratitude. “She was the most miraculous thing that had ever happened in my life,” Whittaker Chambers wrote about his new daughter in Witness. And in the lives of most of us.

I thought that one day
I would be a famous artist
and create great works of art

Instead, God made me a mother,
and my children are His masterpiece.

The design of their lives
will live on after me.
What is painted on their hearts
will last an eternity
- Anonymous

Reason #3: Have another child to grow in holiness and virtue.

For those who marry and have families, children are the primary means God uses to help them grow in holiness and virtue. Children teach their parents patience, perseverance, charity, and humility. They give their parents the opportunity to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. They come into the world naked, and we clothe them, hungry and we feed them. Thirsty, and we give them drink. All of the things that we are required to do for the “least of these our brothers,” we do first and foremost for our own children. St. Catherine of Siena once had a vision in which God took her to a roomful of crosses and told her to pick one. St. Catherine went to the largest, heaviest cross in the room and would have chosen it. But God told her that it was not for her: That was reserved for the parents of large families.

“Mary gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes.” Luke 2:7

Reason #4: Have another child to help end abortion.

When Mother Teresa of Calcutta was asked by a young mother about the best way to proceed with pro-life work, she responded emphatically, “Have a big family. That is the best way to end abortion!”

How this works is not difficult to understand. As children become more rare due to contraception, sterilization and abortion, whole segments of society become less and less familiar with the sense of joy and hope that only babies and children can give. In this climate, contraception and abortion feed on themselves, as the increasingly selfish few further reduce their number.

By having another child, you demonstrate once again to the world that children are God’s greatest gifts. “Children build up the life of the family and society,” as Pope John Paul II has said. “The child becomes a gift to its brothers and sisters, parents and entire family. Its entire life becomes a gift for the very people who were givers of life and who cannot help but feel its presence, its sharing in their life and its contribution to the common good and to the community of the family.”

The more children there are in society, the more pro-life that society will become, and the easier it will be for the great evil of abortion to be eradicated once and for all.

“Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live.” Deuteronomy 30:19

Reason #5:  A) Have another child so your sons will have brothers and your daughters will have sisters.

Children who have siblings learn early to share. They learn to take turns and to put the needs of others before their own. The bond formed between brothers and sisters is lifelong, and stronger than the bond between the closest friends.

“How good it is, how pleasant, where the brothers dwell as one!” Psalm 133:1-2

B) Have another child so your sons will have sisters and your daughters will have brothers.

Boys who have sisters learn the dignity of women. They learn to treat other girls and women with respect, as they consider how they would like their own sisters to be treated. Girls who have brothers learn the complementarity of men and women, both fashioned in the image and likeness of God.

“Love begins by taking care of the closest ones—the ones at home.” Mother Teresa

Reason #6: Have another child so you (and your parents) won’t be lonely in old age.

People who have children don’t have to rely upon strangers to care for them in their old age. Children also become the parents of your grandchildren. Grandchildren bring joy, happiness, and laughter, while still allowing you to get a good night’s sleep! “Grandchildren are the crown of old men, and the glory of children is their parentage.”Proverbs 17:6

Reason #7: Have another child because people are our greatest resource.

Humans are blessed with the gifts of an intellect and free will. It is human ingenuity that discovers creative solutions to the problems which confront us. People without children should remember that it will be someone else’s child who will become the doctor that performs their life-saving operations. Someone else’s child will become the firefighter that saves their house. Someone else’s child will become the railroad engineer.

“How can there be too many children? That’s like saying there are too many flowers.”
Mother Teresa

Reason #8: Have another child to contribute to the economy.

Families with children are fuel to the economy, purchasing houses and cars and college educations. Without young people to enter the workforce, social security systems fail. Without children to attend school, teachers are jobless. Many industries, from fast food restaurants to toy stores, obviously rely heavily upon business from and for children to stay in business. But ultimately the whole economy does.

“Like a fruitful vine your wife within your home, Like olive plants your children around your table. Just so will they be blessed who fear the Lord.” Psalm 128:3-4

Reason #9: Have another child to counter global depopulation.

Anyone who has traveled from coast to coast in the United States and seen the vast empty spaces should know that America is not overpopulated. In fact, the entire population of the world could live in the state of Texas, in single-family dwellings with front and back yards. Fertility rates are falling everywhere. The world’s population will never again double. If current trends continue, world population will peak by the middle of this century and then begin demographic freefall. Our long-term problem is not too many children, but too few children. Having another child will help offset the coming population implosion.

“Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth.” Genesis 1:28.

Reason #10: Have another child to help populate heaven.

The child that you and your spouse have been generous in accepting from God was created to return to Him, after a life of love, service, and obedience on earth, to spend eternity with God in heaven. Our Lord Himself said that there was plenty of room for those immortal souls. There is no overpopulation problem in Heaven!

“There are many mansions in my Father’s house.” John 14:2

“Ten Great Reasons to Have Another Child”
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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

NFP Awareness Week: Responsible Tomatoes and Providential Roses

I originally posted this on July 25, 2012.

There’s a rose bush in our back yard that’s been there since before we moved in here. It’s off in the corner, far from the nearest water faucet, and so it doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. Nevertheless, it blooms. Every year, I’m amazed at the fruitfulness of this plant. This year, it seems to be particularly prolific.

But then, it’s a rose bush. A rose bush is meant to produce flowers. That’s its natural end. Right? We shouldn’t really be too surprised that a rose bush yields a bunch of roses!

On the other hand, this year I bought three tomato plants, which I have planted in a sunny spot, and watered; and I have even fed them with “Miracle-gro”. They’re green and bushy, looking quite healthy, and they blossomed a while back, so I’ve been waiting for the little tomatoes to appear.

But…after waiting and waiting and waiting, I can only find three actual tomatoes! What’s up with that? I am much more surprised that my tomato plants are barren than that my rose bush has blossomed. The natural end of a tomato plant is to produce tomatoes, is it not?

After some thought, I have discerned that my tomato plants are being responsible. This summer is supposed to be hotter than other summers, and there just might not be enough water for them. If they have to divert their resources to bushels of little tomatoes, they’ll be strapped. They don’t know when I’ll water them again, and they don’t know if there are enough nutrients in that soil I’ve provided. They are wise to limit their progeny.

The rose bush, though, is just being so…providentialist! It knows it might not get watered for days on end! It’s painfully aware of the neglect it’s suffered over the years, I’m sure! And yet…and yet…it is producing a multitude of “offspring”. Has it never heard of being responsible? Has it no concern for how it will provide nourishment for all those new buds?

If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:30)

Click on the NFP tab at the top of the page for a list of other NFP posts on this blog.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

NFP Awareness Week: "Use NFP: It Doesn't Work!"

Probably one of the funniest, most honest, and most refreshing articles on NFP ever written was authored by Harry Crocker III in 2009 – you can read the whole thing here, and I highly recommend that you do so. Mr. Crocker suggests that NFP promoters need a new slogan, and he suggests this one:
Use NFP: It Doesn’t Work!
Read the article to see what he is talking about, but allow me to share a few tidbits of truth here, excerpted from Mr. Crocker’s piece. He mentions, for instance, the proper attitude toward marriage and child-rearing:
Rather than bite one's nails to the quick at the prospect of baby number ten – which, if one marries in one's early 20s and practices NFP, is a definite possibility – we should encourage the attitude of the more the merrier, which is a far more attractive case to make than all the goo-goo language about how NFP helps couples "communicate" and about the joy of charting temperatures and discharges and plotting one's conjugal acts as a captain might chart a course for his ship.
And, indeed, he presents what probably a lot of men (and perhaps a few women as well!) think about the prospect of “better communication” and “intimate conversation” that is allegedly common amongst NFP couples:
Frankly, as far as I'm concerned, the charts can be thrown away (what's so "natural" about them?). And to hell with improving "communication" as a dogmatic defense of NFP. For men, the whole point of marriage is to avoid communicating; all that dating conversation stuff can finally be foregone. Married communication, as successful husbands know, is best limited to grunts and hand signals – one upraised finger meaning, "I need a beer"; two upraised fingers meaning, "You need to change the brat's diapers"; three upraised fingers meaning, "Honey, why don't you mow the lawn while I watch football?," and so on. No words are more doom-laden than a wife's sitting down and saying, "Let's talk." Communication is, of course, the first step toward divorce.
I particularly enjoyed his ideas for premarital counseling:
So rather than focusing on NFP, premarital preparation should go like this: 
Father O'Counselor: "Now I want you two to understand that the primary and fundamental purpose of marriage is not companionship, not romantic love, not moonlit strolls on the beach, or any other balderdash but the begetting and raising of children – lots of 'em, and starting soon. The optimum number is enough so that you can lose a few at the grocery store and not notice. That's giving without counting the cost, and at that point, you won't care anyway. As a priest, my sacrifice for the good of the Church is celibacy. As a married couple, yours is to propagate children – who will incidentally annually propagate fierce storms of influenza in your house. If you haven't already studied up on communicable diseases and basic first aid for children jumping off sofas, I'd do it now. But you will find children and their challenges to be the great tutor of not only the medical but the moral virtues."
Potential Husband: "You mean, I'm screwed?"
Father O'Counselor: "In a manner of speaking, yes."
Potential Husband: "Is it too late to enroll in the seminary?" 
We can thus improve Catholic marriages and alleviate the priest shortage at the same time.
Go, read the article, and have a good chuckle. And hope that someday we can return to the sane and sensible approach to marriage that Mr. Crocker describes.

Monday, July 20, 2015

NFP Awareness Week: The Disordered Logic of NFP

From an anonymous contributor:

Even if we agree to accept any reason as valid justification for use of NFP, we are left with a very knotty problem that haunts all NFP discussions: “How does one justify the conscious, intentional, and planned indulgence in sexual activities that purposely and purposefully seeks to frustrate the natural perfection of the sexual act?”

The theme for Natural Family Planning Week 2015 is
In the days before we had all the choices that science gives us today, this was an almost unthinkable problem. We didn't know that one could precisely plan to sow in the fall and winter, when no crops were likely. We always knew enough about seasonal cycles that, if we wanted to grow crops, we had to sow in spring and summer. That's the nature of farming. You do all the work of farming in order to grow crops to harvest in the fall.

But how is it a good thing to sow seeds – intentionally, purposely, purposefully – during a woman's monthly equivalent to fall and winter? Before we had these “modern” choices, married couples just followed common sense and did what married couples have always done: they engaged in the marital embrace when they felt like it. Sometimes it was during the monthly “fall” and “winter”, other times (actually a much narrower time) during “spring” and “summer”. Such couples devoted themselves to the raising of children schooled (hopefully) in the ways of God, helped each work out their salvation in fear and trembling and dependence upon God, and wound up having large families.

It is unimaginable that we could ask couples from the past, “How many children do you plan to have?” Yet today, almost every newly married couple is asked that question. It's just assumed, by our culture, that it is “responsible” to have only the number of children you want and believe you can afford to raise properly. Our Catholic ancestors didn't have such choices, and in that respect they were closer to consecrated religious: just as with farmers, life itself invited them to trust in God more than themselves. If circumstances were dire, they were intelligent enough and disciplined enough to abstain from the marital embrace.

If we focus on the sexual act all by itself, independent of where and how it occurs, it is fairly obvious that it has one, single purpose: procreation. If we focus on the sexual act all by itself within marriage, it can be said to have the additional purpose of “mutual comfort of the spouses and remedy for concupiscence” (which has morphed into the “unitive end” in current jargon). The sexual act actually demands, all by itself, the context of marriage for perfection so, even outside of marriage, the sexual act intends both procreation (which is always possible, regardless of circumstances) and “union” in its anticipation of the context of marriage. Once again we see the “both/and” proposition, and it isn't even necessary to consult Catholic teaching to conclude this. A sexual act which concludes in procreation but which doesn't respect the actual or anticipated spousal union is disordered. So is a sexual act which consciously, intentionally, purposely and purposefully seeks to avoid procreation.

Logically, then, the intention to enter the marital embrace, while at the same time intending to avoid its perfection, is disordered – because any sexual act which rejects either procreation or union is disordered. Conversely, any sexual act which accepts and honors both procreation and union is governed by right reason. Following this thread, let us recall that our ability to order our acts by right reason is corrupted by concupiscence, and that sex is particularly vulnerable to concupiscence – even in marriage. When a couple desires to engage in the marital act, but also takes steps to avoid procreation – they are succumbing to concupiscence. If we look honestly at NFP, then, we see a remedy for concupiscence, rather than a virtuous “self-giving”. Husband and wife wish to have the physical and emotional enjoyment afforded by the marital embrace, but they want to avoid the proper end of that act – parenthood. The practice of NFP, then, can often result in the marital act being disordered, and the more the couple charts and thinks about and plans when to engage in the marital embrace, the more disordered their lives become, because “sex” has become the focal point of their daily thoughts.

But the Church, right now, apparently condones – and at times seems to actually encourage – this intentionally sterile sexual activity. How can this be? Why would the Church encourage something that is, at bottom, disordered sexuality? Remember: what makes this activity disordered is the conscious, intentional, purposeful plan and attendant actions to defeat the purpose of the sexual act (now that we have the choices we do, one of those choices is to choose to have sex that is disordered; before we had these choices, we just had sex!). It seems likely that the Church is responding to the culture and, to use the words of Our Lord, we have hardened our hearts. Jesus said that Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of peoples' hearts, “but it was not always so from the beginning.” The same notion seems to apply here: the Church is allowing something due to the hardness of our hearts, the deplorable state of our hypersexualized culture. NFP is a permitted remedy given the hardness of our hearts, “but it was not always so from the beginning.” We shouldn't be promoting anything that is a remedy for “hardness of heart” except the Truth.

There you have it – your NFP Awareness lesson for the week: Be aware that the logic of NFP is disordered.