Tag Archives: marriage

When I get married, I want 17 kids.

Ok— maybe I’m not honestly planning on having 17 children.  Actually, I’m not thinking about having children at all right now (due, of course, to my unmarried state).

I do, however, come from a family of 5 children—which for many people is a lot of children, especially given the fact that we are all within 2 years apart from one another.  Every one of my 4 siblings is married with at least 1 child, giving me a grand total of 8 adorable nieces and nephews.  And wanna know the “crazy” thing?

None of my siblings (nor my parents) practice artificial birth control.  And if/when I get married, I won’t either.

Call it what you will.  Irresponsible.  Insane.  Outright disturbing.  I’ve heard it all before, and it only makes me more proud to be a part of a family that lives out and takes seriously this most controversial teaching of the Catholic Church.  It’s not that I enjoy controversy for controversy’s sake.  No—it’s that I wholeheartedly believe that a fuller truth, a truer happiness, and a more authentic love are on our side when it comes to the stance my family takes on using artificial contraception.

Why?  Because I believe in marriage, and I believe in love.  I believe the most perfect expression of the love between a husband and wife is the sexual union.  And I unreservedly reject anything that seeks to cheapen or distort that expression of love and turn it into something it is not.  To me (and I believe to anyone who really sits down and reflects on it with an open mind for some time), contraception is one of those things.

My family believes (as the Catholic Church teaches) that the purpose of sex within marriage is twofold: 1) for the unity of the couple, and 2) for the procreation of offspring.  Don’t misunderstand my meaning.  This DOES NOT mean that I think every time a married couple has sex that they need to be intending or trying to have a child.  It simply means that the married couple needs to be open to having children as a result of their union.

It’s pretty clear why the unitive aspect of sex is so important to a married couple; but to our modern society, it’s far less clear why it matters that a couple be open to having children every time they engage in sex.  Simply put, the reason is: love.

Life-giving Love: Sex is supposed to be a total gift of yourself to your spouse.  The act of sex renews the wedding vows, to hold nothing back from your partner.  Using contraception, we close off a part of ourselves from our spouse, cheapening the authentic expression of total, life giving love that sex is meant to be.

Respect: Because contraception rejects the life-giving aspect of the sexual union, I believe that it is a form of disrespect to the body—making the body little more than a mere instrument used for sexual pleasure.  Of course, it is not at all that I think that most couples that use birth control are doing so with the intent of using one another, but I do think that, over time, it can be an unintended, and undesired effect (even if the couple cannot specifically point to birth control as the reason for their eventual emotional distance).

Come on, Get Real

I do realize (as does the Catholic Church) that often times there are legitimate reasons to space out or delay pregnancy within a family.  In those cases, it is still not ever a good idea to contracept, because all of the negative effects that come with it still apply.  However science has made great strides in a natural way for couples who need to either delay or achieve pregnancy.  It’s called Natural Family Planning, and it has a near 99% success rate.

Rather than unnaturally altering or inhibiting the proper functions of the body, NFP requires the couple work with the woman’s body to achieve the desired result (it involves charts and temperature taking and all that jazz.  Of course I’ve never done it, so I can’t really tell ya from experience).  I can tell you that couples who practice NFP have a divorce rate less than 1% (fact).  Though it’s important to realize that it’s not necessary for every couple—I believe that if you have the means to support a family and don’t have a good, non-selfish, reason for delaying children, there is no need to practice NFP in order to delay pregnancy.  Love can’t be selfish, so neither can sex, right?

A Final Word on Children

People are uncomfortable with large families and lots of kids.  I’ve never understood why.  Though children are often messy and difficult to control, any mentally stable person who has children will tell you without hesitation about the joy that children bring to a life and to a marriage.  Is raising a family easy?  Hardly.  Does the love they bring to a family make up a hundred fold for all of the struggle?  Drawing from my own experience growing up in a larger family and from literally anyone I have talked to about their children, you better believe it does.

The Problem with Porn

A little over a week ago, I posted a poll on this blog asking for feedback about your thoughts on pornography.

As of yesterday, an overwhelming percentage of you believed that looking at pornography is always wrong, no matter the circumstance. (Of course, these results are likely more so a commentary on the mentality and values of the people who read this blog than they are an accurate and scientific representation of what the average person today thinks of pornography.)

  • 11% of you yesterday believed it depended on the person/circumstance.
  • 6% saw no problem with it whatsoever, thought that it is sometimes healthy and/or necessary for a person, and is only wrong if in a committed relationship or married.
  • 3% of you had no opinion.

The reality is that if you are reading this and are over the age of 11, chances are you have been exposed to pornography at least once already in your lifetime. And if you are a young adult male reading this, chances are extremely high that you regularly view pornography at this time in your life (statistically speaking, anyway).

Alright, but what’s the big deal? I mean, provided you’re not in a relationship or keeping it a secret from your significant other or anything. We are human, after all. Sex isn’t dirty or wrong; and we should all be free to give into our natural desires. We have “needs”, right?

Pornography as “Healthy”

This kind of mentality about sex is nothing particularly new. It goes back as far as the 1930s, and even earlier than that. In 1936, a German man named Wilhelm Reich wrote a book called The Sexual Revolution. In it, he wrote that:

“Sexuality…is the productive vital energy, simply speaking. Its suppression leads not only to medical damage, but also quite generally to damage in the basic functions of life. The essential social expression of this damage is purposeless (irrational) action by human beings: their insanity, their mysticism, their readiness for war, etc…The core of life’s happiness is sexual happiness.”

What is Mr. Reich saying in the above quote? Essentially, if we suppress our sexual desires, we are more likely to be unhealthy, uptight, angry, and violent people.

…Sound familiar? It’s the mindset of most of the popular shows we watch on TV today. The character who plays the president of the chastity club is an uptight prude (and usually a cheerleader?? I’ve never quite understood that…but I digress). The characters that engage in sexual activity are often portrayed as more mature or wise. The thought goes something like this: “We need to be able to do things like look at pornography. It keeps us healthy. It makes us happy. It keeps us sane.”

No Such Thing As Selfish Love

But does it really? Interestingly, most of you who believed that pornography is sometimes healthy or necessary actually thought it was NOT ok within the context of a marriage or committed relationship. Why? Presumably because the thought is that, within a relationship, you should be fulfilling each other’s needs, and that pornography within that relationships is, in the very least, “emotional cheating”.

Let’s think about that for a moment, though. Do you really think of a person you are making love to as just “fulfilling a need” of yours? I honestly think that most reasonable people (religious or non-religious) would say no. Sex with someone you love is supposed to be more than that. It’s supposed to be about love—an expression of that love— not mutually using one another.

If we really believe that sex is about more than using someone else to fulfill a need, then looking at pornography can never be ok. Why? Well, as we have just shown, pornography trains those who look at it to view sex as absolutely nothing more than selfish gratification (read: “fulfilling my needs”). It’s naive (read: “wrong”) to think that your mindset will just magically change when you enter into a committed relationship.

I don’t think anyone would argue with me when I say that love cannot be selfishIt has to be selfless.  Begin training yourself in love today.  Waiting for tomorrow may be too late.

In case you missed it, here’s the poll again:

Also Check Out: “5 Ways Porn Saps Your Manliness”

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Marriage: More than just a piece of paper?

After yesterday’s post about single life vs. married life, a friend sent me a message with a very valid point.  I thought it was worth discussing here:

If any two people are planning on getting married eventually anyway then what will the difference really be between now and then other than a piece of paper and a party?

Well, I believe that marriage is a sacrament. A good way to think of a sacrament is to think of it as an outward sign of an inner reality. For example, baptism is a sacrament. The outward sign is the water, but the inner reality (the thing that is actually, literally happening) is the Holy Spirit coming to dwell within the person being baptized.

So what’s happening during the sacrament of marriage that makes it more than just a couple signatures on a piece of paper? The couple promises to be true to one another in sickness and health, in good times and bad, etc, until death do they part. But they could do that on a random Tuesday in October on the sidewalk if they wanted to, right? So there’s gotta be something else going on for it to be a sacrament.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about the sacrament of Matrimony:

“1661 The sacrament of Matrimony signifies the union of Christ and the Church. It gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love with which Christ has loved his Church; the grace of the sacrament thus perfects the human love of the spouses, strengthens their indissoluble unity, and sanctifies them on the way to eternal life”

In essence, what the sacrament gives the couple that they can’t get just by signing a piece of paper or by promising things to each other on the sidewalk is grace. Grace is one of those words that people use all the time but never really talk about. In this sense, it’s defined as the participation in the life of God. The couple’s love is now united for a higher purpose. In Matrimony, the two have become one flesh (Mat 19:6), working towards the goal of helping one another achieve eternal happiness in Heaven.

I could promise my boyfriend anything I want. We could move in together and start a family. We could write up a piece of paper and both sign it and hang it from the refrigerator without ever setting foot inside a church. We’d look and act exactly like a married couple. We could even make it work and be together forever.

But it wouldn’t be a sacramental marriage.  If we weren’t baptized, it would be what’s called a natural marriage—still good and still from God (because the union of man and woman is from God), but we wouldn’t have the graces from the sacrament. Our love wouldn’t be about God and getting the other person to Heaven—it would be about ourselves (and possibly a family we desired to have).

I do believe that you can have a loving relationship with someone and even grow to be a better person from that relationship without the sacrament. I know a good many people who have such relationships. But I believe the sacrament of marriage is the ideal to which couples should strive because in it they are united for something greater than just earthly love; they are giving themselves fully so that they can gain the eternal love of the Father in Heaven.

"Am I Lowering My Standards?"

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Question:

I have recently become engaged to the man of my dreams. I have been saving myself for marriage yet my future husband hasn’t and was intimate with his previous girlfriend. We have never discussed it before (in detail) the proposal and now it’s weighing on every aspect of my life. How should I approach him and would I really be giving up on my morals and values by marrying someone without the same principle about intimacy and marriage as I?


Answer:

Congrats on the engagement!  I’ll keep you both in our prayers as you continue to discern this vocation (marriage) you hear God calling you towards.

You say that you have been practicing abstinence to save yourself for marriage and your fiance hasn’t.  But let’s back up a minute here.  If you’re saving yourself for marriage, then your fiance must be practicing abstinence too, right?  The past is the past; and we can’t change it.  All we can do is move forward.  Your fiance will never be able to get his virginity back; he can’t simply make a decision to be a virgin again.  But he can (and maybe he already did) make a decision to be chaste.  This is really the question you need to be concerned with. It’s not: “Is my fiance a virgin?” It’s “Is my fiance choosing to lead a chaste lifestyle?”

It’s the same question you should be asking of yourself.  It’s awesome that you have known your whole life to cherish your virginity and to save that gift for your husband.  But chastity is about more than that, too.

Your fiance has chosen to practice abstinence for you, and that’s great.  But has he chosen to be chaste for himself?  Does he know the tremendous gift his sexuality is?  Does he know that chastity, unlike abstinence, doesn’t end the day you say your wedding vows?

Chastity is recognizing the whole of your sexuality as a precious gift—a gift to be cherished and not abused.  I say “the whole” of your sexuality because I think we all know that it is possible to give away pieces of your sexuality while still remaining a virgin.  It’s possible to abuse your sexuality or that of someone else while still remaining a virgin.  We see this all the time with things like pornography, which trains us to view the opposite sex merely as an object for our pleasure.  Chastity is the opposite of that.  It’s choosing to deny yourself for the sake of the one you love.

Like love, or any of the virtues, chastity is not a switch you can turn on; it’s something that needs to be practiced, because we all have sexual desires.  These desires are not bad; they are completely normal.  It’s when we’re deciding what we do with these desires that chastity comes into play.  And it’s hard to deny yourself sometimes.  But the payoff is worth it.  Because the payoff is real love.

So, if he hasn’t made this decision, how do you talk to your fiance about it?  Well, you could start by showing him this post.  It might be good for him to see that this was a big enough deal to you that you asked an outsider’s opinion and advice.  There are also great resources on talking about chastity here.

However you choose to go about it, you need to be talking to your fiance about all of this.  It may involve a little bit of risk and it may be uncomfortable, but you should really be talking to your fiance about everything.  You two are planning to become one!  That’s what marriage is—when two become one.  You can’t keep secrets from the other half of yourself.  You can’t have things you’re afraid to confront with the other half of yourself. Especially since the two of you, if you do get married, will probably have children someday.  What values are you going to be teaching those children?  What are they going to learn from their parents about love and about sex?  These are all things you need to be talking about before you get married.

I will be praying for you.

Subordinance

While sitting in mass on Sunday, there were some rather uncomfortable people in the seats around me as the lector got up to read the Epistle.

“Wives should be subordinate to their husbands,” he proclaimed, reading directly from the 5th chapter of Ephesians.  I began to hear the chuckles around me.  The women uncomfortably cleared their throats; some even rolled their eyes.

“Poor ignorant Paul,” they thought.  “Thank goodness we live in a much more enlightened time now.” If you looked across the church at that moment, I’m sure you could’ve found more than a handful of husbands nudging their wives.  Finally, someone who understands what a wife is supposed to be!

It’s funny; because every time that passage is read at mass, the same thing happens.  The same people become uncomfortable, flustered, and even angry.  As soon as that line is read, it’s as if we tune the rest of the reading out.  But why?

Today, the word “submission” has a very negative connotation.  It is linked with a master/slave type of relationship.  Clearly that is not a very Christian way to look at any relationships, and certainly not marriage.  If you were brave enough to listen to the next part of the reading, this is what you’d hear:

…Husbands, love your wives,
even as Christ loved the church
and handed himself over for her to sanctify her,
cleansing her by the bath of water with the word,
that he might present to himself the church in splendor,
without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,
that she might be holy and without blemish.
So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.
He who loves his wife loves himself.

Ah.  So if wives are to submit to their husbands, this is what they are supposed to be submitting to:

  • Being loved, “as Christ loved the Church,”
  • A love that is self-giving, that “hands himself over for her…that she might be holy and without blemish”,
  • Someone who loves her “as his own body”.

So, do we really live in a “more enlightened time” now?  Because I sort of think that, regarding what a marriage is supposed to look like, Paul hit the nail on the head here.