Tag Archives: ask mary

Ask Mary: Discernment (And other stuff…)

Happy Fat Tuesday!

Couple things:

First, if you haven’t read the “Diving Into Lent” post from Thursday, go ahead and check that out now.  (And remember: contrary to popular belief, binging today will not make the sacrifices you begin tomorrow any easier.  In fact, the reverse is probably true.  Just something to keep in mind 🙂 )

Also, big thanks to Tara over at Impacting Culture for awarding Young And Catholic with the Versatile Blogger award!  To pay it forward, I’m supposed to come up with 15 links to other blogs I’d like to nominate—but I don’t have a list that long quite yet.  So just check out Impacting Culture for now!

Finally, a great question from a reader on discernment.  (And I’m linking to an even better answer from Peter Kreeft)

Question:

Hi Mary!
Lately, I have been struggling to understand what God expects of me. I have been praying a lot,and I know I need to be patient. However, the matter of discerning really confuses me. I am somewhat of an analytical person, so I tend to question every decision and thought.  This may not make sense, but I honestly struggle daily with separating what God is telling me from other thoughts. I feel hopeless and as if I will never understand exactly what he wants from me. Being in this struggle makes me feel as if I am disappointing God. I really just want to be at peace and know that I am serving him the way He has planned. I know that discernment is a personal relationship with myself and God, and that there is no magic formula, but I guess I am just asking for some advice.

Answer:

As a fellow analytical person, this question makes total sense to me.  I know God should be in control of everything (and I want Him to be!)—but at what point can my free will step in and make the decision already?  By far the best answer I have heard on this struggle you describe comes from Peter Kreeft:

Does God have one right choice for me in each decision I make?

When we pray for wisdom to discern God’s will when it comes to choosing a mate, a career, a job change, a move, a home, a school, a friend, a vacation, how to spend money, or any other choice, big or little, whenever there are two or more different paths opening up before us and we have to choose, does God always will one of those paths for us? If so, how do we discern it?

Many Christians who struggle with this question today are unaware that Christians of the past can help them from their own experience. Christian wisdom embodied in the lives and teachings of the saints tells us two things that are relevant to this question.

First, they tell us that God not only knows and loves us in general but that he cares about every detail of our lives, and we are to seek to walk in his will in all things, big and little. Second, they tell us that he has given us free will and reason because he wants us to use it to make decisions. This tradition is exemplified in Saint Augustine’s famous motto “Love God and [then] do what you will.” In other words, if you truly love God and his will, then doing what you will, will, in fact, be doing what God wills.

Do these two pieces of advice pull us in opposite directions, or do they only seem to? Since there is obviously a great truth embodied in both of them, which do we emphasize the most to resolve our question of whether God has one right way for us?

Read More…

Ask Mary: I really, really don’t want kids.

Question:

I’m an 18 year old female college student, and I have just gotten back in touch with Catholicism…

…I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting back into my faith, but there is something that REALLY continues to rub me wrong. I’ve prayed and prayed about it, but I am not getting any answer. I’ve researched it, but just hear the same things over and over and it just doesn’t sit right with me, and that is the issue of contraception. I’ve read humanae vitae, I’ve researched “natural family planning”, and it all still leaves me completely unsatisfied still. I see where the Church is coming from on this issue, however, I feel that God has called me to do something else with my future besides staying at home with my “loving” husband and having a billion children…And then I went to the church and asked my female minister about it. The gist was this: If you have the financial capability, happiness, and wealth, your job is basically to be popping out children.

This just honestly does not sit right with me…Some women love being mothers, and being a mother is certainly an honorable duty, but I don’t think I’m cut out for it. I’m very ambitious and have goals of working for the Department of Defense, not sacrificing all my happiness because the Church says I should.

I was considering getting an IUD. I am not in a relationship currently and have no plans of having sex any time soon, but just in case, I know for SURE that I don’t want children for at least 5 years. I know the Catholic church hates “the pill” because there’s this ridiculously tiny chance that sperm and egg meet, but with an IUD, that never happens. 

Is it still just so completely wrong? I’ve prayed and prayed about this issue, and have not received any answer it seems. I just get that same feeling I always have had. I don’t think birth control is such a horrible sin against God like people make it out to be. Prayer, research, and everything keep me coming to the exact same conclusions! I don’t want to say that God says it’s alright because I don’t know, but I’m not feeling a ridiculously large objection here!

What do you think? I’m just horribly frustrated. Thanks for any advice you can give.

Answer:

Thanks for this question.  I would like to begin my answer by asking you a question of my own…

You say in your last paragraph, “I don’t want to say that God says it [birth control] is alright because I don’t know.”

My question is this: Why don’t you know?

A lot of people see the “rules” of our Catholic faith as something that tie us down and keep us from being free to discover God and the truth on our own.  But this is a huge misunderstanding.  For one, God is infinite, and so far beyond our human capability to understand that, were it not for Him reaching down to us and divinely revealing Himself to us, we would never be able to ascend to Him on our own.  The truth is that, far from hampering our ability to know and understand truth for ourselves, the teachings of the Church (which come from the Holy Spirit revealed to the apostles and their successors) are precisely what enable us to understand truth in the first place.  When we live the teachings of the Church, we become more—not less— free to discover truth, beauty, and goodness (and thus, God Himself).

My point: You actually do know what God says about birth control.  He has told you in the moral teachings of the Church, that practicing artificial birth control is not, has never been, and will never be true, beautiful, or good for you.

 

Why Not?

Now, I could be totally off here.  But it seems to me that your understanding of why the Church “hates” the pill is because it can, at times, act as an abortifacient?

That may be true…but that is not the only reason.  The Church is also against condoms as a means of birth control, and they’re not aborting any babies either.  There’s something deeper to the reason for this teaching that you may be missing.

Let’s talk nature.  The natural end of sex is a baby, just like the natural end of food is nutrition.  Not every crumb of food we eat ends up being used to nourish our bodies.  And that’s ok.  Likewise, not every sexual encounter results in a baby.  And that’s ok, too.

But let’s say I decided I didn’t want to allow food to nourish my body at all—that I just wanted to enjoy the taste of it and nothing else.  I could make the decision to vomit every meal (or at least the majority of meals) I consume.  …But then you’d call me bulimic, because that behavior is disordered (hence the term “eating disorder”).

Likewise, I could decide I just want pleasure of the sexual encounter, without giving any real opportunity for the natural end (procreation) to occur.  …But the Church would call that disordered because, well—from a purely natural standpoint—it is.

I know you said you’ve read it, but I’d like to direct your attention to paragraph 17 of humanae vitae for further clarification of the Church’s teaching on contraception:

Another effect [of the use of contraception] that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

Many may read this and scoff, but I think it’s pretty apparent that the widespread use of contraception has in fact led to this result.  Sex has become little more than pleasure, and no longer a total gift of self (after all, you are holding a part of yourself back from your partner when you use contraception, so you cannot truthfully say you are giving yourselves entirely to one another in that union).  As a result, those with whom we engage in the sexual act when we are using contraception become, for all practical purposes (and whether we are conscious of it or not), nothing more than objects we use to bring about our own pleasure.  We may tell ourselves it’s ok because the using is mutual.  Call the Church crazy, but it has always held, and will always hold, that the mutual using of one another for pleasure is not love.

NFP, IUDs, and The Pill

Natural Family Planning can be very effective when practiced properly.  And while you should not practice NFP with a “contraceptive mentality,” not every Catholic couple is necessarily called to have 12 children, either.  The following is an excerpt from a brief article that I think does a good job explaining the Church’s teaching with regards to the choice to have children:

There is no decision more serious to a Catholic couple than whether or not to participate with God in bringing a new human person into existence. The more serious a decision, the more it is due prayer, discussion and discernment. I teach my seminarians in Denver that God has a plan for every married couple; that the plan includes how many children they should have; and therefore if a couple is concerned about doing Jesus’ will, they should try to discover whether Jesus wishes them to have more children. They should have all the children that Jesus wants them to have, no less, and no more. Therefore, whenever they are conscious that they might become pregnant, they should discuss and pray over the question: “Does Jesus want us to have another child?” The idea that this question is intrinsically tainted with selfish motives is rigoristic and should be rejected. Every potentially fertile couple, as well as infertile couples capable of adopting, has the responsibility to ask it.

Finally: birth control pills and IUDs (in addition to the spiritual and emotional damage they can cause) are also associated with many other medical problems.  And since you’re not yet married nor planning to get married anytime soon, there should be no reason why you’d be considering getting an IUD at this time anyway.  (By the way, it is definitely not true that an IUD cannot cause an abortion).

The Church Wants You to Be Happy

If you get one thing from my reply, let it be this: God wants you to be happy even more than you want yourself to be happy.  And seeing as He created you and thus knows you better than you know yourself, He knows better than you do what will make you happy.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I’m NOT saying: “God knows that 12 kids is really what makes every woman happy…so just drop this whole Department of Defense dream and start popping out babies.”  (There are many examples of women in the Church whom we revere as saints that never had children!) What I am saying is this: you can’t be as happy as God wants you to be if you are disobeying the teachings of the Church that He established.  They are there for a reason—and that reason is your happiness.

I don’t know what your vocation is.  God could very well call you to marriage, religious life, or even to the consecrated single life.  I can say with 100% certainty that whatever He calls you to, it will make you happier than you ever imagined.  I can say with 100% certainty that eternal happiness is not something we have to wait until we die for.  It is something that can begin right now by clinging to God in prayer and by living in accordance with the teachings of the Church (even when we may not fully understand them yet).  I can say with 100% certainty that God will never desire for you to disobey the moral teachings of the Church, so if you think that you are hearing God tell you it’s ok, it’s probably not God’s voice you are listening to, but your own.

It’s a long answer, but it was a big question 🙂  I hope it provided some clarity for you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day” (Matthew 6:34)

A woman visited her doctor. “Doctor,” she said, “I have a perfectly functioning circulatory system.”

“That’s good,” the doctor replied.

“Well,” she said, “I was wondering if you could give me a drug to make it stop functioning the way that it is supposed to.”

“That’s crazy!” the doctor replied. “Why would I give you something to make your circulatory system stop functioning well?”

“Ok,” the woman replied, “but how about my respiratory system. It seems to be working fine. Could you give me something to mess it up?”

The doctor was shocked. “Of course not! No doctor in their right mind would intentionally give you a drug to mess up a healthy respiratory system.”

“Well, how about my reproductive system?” asked the woman. “Can you give me something to make it stop functioning the way that it is supposed to?”

“Certainly,” the doctor replied. “We have all kinds of medicines to do that.”