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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.”

Boyfriends, Babies, & Jesus

Question:

Hey Mary,
I am a Catholic dating, more like a “courting”, a non-Catholic. As a Catholic, I know that it is my duty to raise all of my children in the Catholic Church, so me and my boyfriend have had several discussions on this.

In his church, they are first baptized when they accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and he argues that that is how it was meant to be because that is as the Bible tells it. However, I believe in infant baptism as the Church does. So when we have this discussion, he says that the only reason the Church does it is so the baby’s original sin will be removed and they won’t go to Hell.

I don’t necessarily believe that an unbaptized baby will go to Hell, but I do believe that they should be baptized to remove original sin, so they can grow in the light of Christ.

How can I explain to him in a clear and concise argument the beauty and better reasons to infant baptism?

 Answer: 

Thanks for your question!  I’m reminded of (yet another) CS Lewis quote:

“You don’t have a soul.  You are a soul.  You have a body.”

As important as it is to nourish our bodies, it is even more important to feed our souls.  In a very real way, this is what baptism does.  It gives us the light of Christ (as you said, and as I’m sure your boyfriend agrees).  Now, if you two do one day get married and have kids, I’d imagine you’re not going to wait until they reach the age of reason to ask for food.  You’re going to feed your children to give them the proper nutrients so they are healthy.  How much truer should that be for the health of their souls!

Likewise, none of us chooses the family we are born into.  In fact, none of us chooses to be born in the first place.  I think it is fitting, then, that many of us do not initially choose our spiritual family in the Church.  We do not choose to born again in Christ.  But regardless of when you are baptized—if you made the decision after several years of study or if your parents decided it for you before you knew what was going on—it was still Christ who chose you first.

In addition, there is in fact Scriptural support for infant baptism (not to mention accounts from the early Christians).  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus Himself says:

Now they were bringing even children to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.  But Jesus called to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:15-16)

“To such belongs the kingdom of God.”  Unless we become like children, we cannot enter Heaven.  It doesn’t really add up, then, that we have to first “be mature” to accept Christ, does it?

Also, there are accounts in the New Testament of whole families being baptized after hearing the Good News.

Act 16:15 – (speaking of Lydia) – After she and her household had been baptized

Acts 16:33 (of a Philippian Jailer) – “…then he and all his family were baptized at once.”

1 Corinthians 1:16 – I baptized the household of Stephanas also

There are no records of Christians in the early Church intentionally waiting until their children have attained the age of reason to baptize them.  It seems once the parents found Christ, the whole family received Him.  And if baptism is truly the person of the Holy Spirit coming to live within you, why wouldn’t you give that gift to your son or daughter from the first days of their lives?

That would be my answer.  There are plenty of resources you can check out for this.  Catholic Answers is a good place to start.

Divine Instruction Manual, Please?

I have received several questions from readers over the past few weeks asking about the Church’s stance on a number of issues, ranging from tattoos to women in the workplace.  While I could attempt to dedicate a post to each topic, I figured it would be more efficient to wrap them up, for the most part, with this:

If you’ve been in the world for longer than about 20 minutes, you have probably noticed that not every situation has a clear black or white answer.  Sometimes it may be that we are faced with making the choice simply between good and evil.  But more often than not, we find ourselves faced with a choice of good and not-as-good—and when that happens it is not always clear which is which.

The Church knows this.  Yes, there is objective truth.  Yes, there are things that are objectively and morally wrong.  For these issues, the Church has a yes or no answer, and you can typically find it in your Catechism.   But while the Catechism is amazing for learning about faith and morality, it is not meant to be an instruction manual for every question you come to in life.  This is why it is so important 1) to really know your faith and 2) to actually have a relationship with God.

If you know the teachings of the Church, you can apply the basic principles to your situation to help you discern which is the right or wrong answer.  It will usually come down to the two greatest commandments: Love God with all your heart, soul and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.  Most importantly, if you have a relationship with God, you will be seeking to do His will, which of course cannot contradict the teachings of His Church.

So, to answer some specific questions: unless your tattoo is of an image that offends God (or if your getting a tattoo is disobeying your parents), then it is not sinful.  And yes, a woman can be a good mother and still go to work.  Nothing too counter-cultural here 🙂

Being Catholic vs. Following Christ

Question:

Why do Catholics refer to themselves as “Catholic” and not as “Christians”?  For instance, when I am asked what I believe, I don’t say I’m Lutheran or Presbyterian, I say I am Christian. But I have noticed that my Catholic friends identify themselves not as Christian, but as Catholic. 

Do not we all believe that Christ died for sins and rose again, and that this is the essence of our faith? So then why does there seem to be this distinction between us? I know that there are many theological and liturgical differences that separate Catholics from the denominations, but I think that we should all come under one umbrella on one point: that we are all professors of Christ’s redeeming grace and, therefore, all Christians.

This is not to say that Catholics are not Christians, but to ask why I do not hear my friends who are Catholic referring to themselves as Christians.

 

Answer:

Thanks for the question!

First of all, you are absolutely right.  Catholics are Christian.  In fact, before the Protestant Reformation, most people who identified themselves as Christians were Catholic-Christians (give or take a few heretics).  Saint Peter was the first Pope of the Catholic Church (and I don’t think anyone would argue that he wasn’t a follower of Christ!), and we have had an unbroken line of popes since Saint Peter, that goes all the way to our current pope, Pope Benedict XVI.

Catholic actually means “universal,” so when someone says, “I belong to the Catholic Church,” they are really saying, “I belong to the universal church.”  So it’s a little ironic that nowadays it can sometimes feel divisive among other Christians.  Our earliest written record of the term “catholic” to describe the Church is from Saint Ignatius of Antioch, in AD 107.  Ignatius was a bishop who, like a lot of the early Christians, was arrested and killed for his faith.  In his final letter to his fellow Christians in Smyrna (a city in modern-day Turkey), he wrote, “Where the bishop is present, there is the Catholic [universal] Church” (To the Smyrnaeans 8:2).  The term sort of caught on after that.

Why don’t your Catholic friends refer to themselves as Christians, you ask?  I can’t be sure.  It could be that they don’t know for sure whether Catholics really are Christian.  I’ve been asked this question a lot by kids on retreats or at youth group, and I often get the sense that most of these young people know that Catholics are Christian, but they also know that our brand of Christianity is different than a lot of their friends’, and they’re not really sure how to articulate why that is.

For me, if someone asks if I am a Christian, I unhesitatingly tell them yes.  I am a proud believer in Jesus Christ.  But if asked what faith I am or religion I am apart of, I proudly say that I am a Catholic.  Why?  Because while all Catholics are Christian, not all Christians are Catholic.  To be a Catholic means that I am under the authority of the Church that Christ established over 2,000 years ago when he gave Peter the keys to the kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 16:18).  To be a Catholic means that I can run to Christ in the sacrament of reconciliation when I have sinned, and truly know that I have been forgiven.  To be a Catholic means that I believe that Christ meant it at the Last Supper when He said the words, “This is my body…take and eat,” and I get to receive Him on a regular basis in the Eucharist.  Jesus commanded us to follow Him, but I believe He gave us the Catholic Church as a means to do that in the fullest way possible.

You are right, though.  It was Christ’s prayer that we “may all be one,” as He is one with the Father (John 17:21).  There is definitely a balance to strike between only focusing on our differences, and ignoring them completely.  In the end, we will only ever be truly united when we all believe in the one truth that Christ Himself meant for us to believe in.  Until then, we love each other as Christ has commanded us to 🙂

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Ask Mary: How Do We Know the Eucharist is True?

Question:

I guess I’m kind of looking for a little advice.  While it’s always great to spend some time in prayer with God, I guess I’m just having a hard time really having faith (I guess that’s really what it comes down to) that God is present in the Eucharist. Sometimes I just feel silly kneeling before a piece of bread. I have been praying for God to help me to grow in understanding (although I do realize the Eucharist will always be a mystery) and faith to really believe that the Eucharist truly is the body of Christ.

I guess I am looking for a little bit of encouragement or to see if you had any words of wisdom. It’s not really a topic I would discuss with my friends and I don’t really know of anyone else to ask/seek advice from. Praying has really been helpful, which has been a cool thing to see working so far!

Answer:

“Faith will tell us Christ is present, when our human senses fail”

-Saint Thomas Aquinas

Thank you so much for this question!  The fact is, I can sit here and write you a 20-page paper defending the real presence of the Eucharist, citing Scripture and tradition of the Early Church Fathers to show that Jesus Christ is, in fact, truly present in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist—but when it comes down to it, faith is a grace bestowed upon us by God Himself.  And this should encourage you greatly.  The very fact that you even felt compelled to ask someone this question shows that God is already giving you a desire to be close to Him in the Eucharist, so don’t be discouraged 🙂

I will recommend a few practical things to you:

In this book, the author interviews 9 different people who have had profound experiences as a result of spending regular time in Eucharistic adoration.  This is first on the list because I’m serious when I say that no amount of reasonable or logical answers will change your mind if Christ Himself does not do it first.  It’s sort of like getting to know a friend.  You won’t truly know if he or she is a friend until you spend time with them in conversation and develop a relationship.

  • Secondly, there are a ton of documented Eucharistic miracles, but I think the miracle that took place at Lanciano, Italy in the year 750 is my favorite. 

As he was celebrating mass, a priest doubted whether Jesus was truly present in the Eucharist.  When he said the words of consecration, the host was physically transformed into Flesh and the wine was likewise transformed into Blood.  Today, over a thousand years later, the Flesh is still intact and the blood is divided into 5 parts (which, though each one is unequal in size to the other, miraculously they all have the exact same weight).

I don’t have time to go into all of the details here, but you can read all about it at this website.

  • Finally, there are a lot of really good online resources that defend the Catholic Church’s teaching that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist.  One of the best and most straightforward to understand can be found here, at Catholic.com. 

 

In the end though, if we have faith that Jesus truly rose from the dead (and if we do not, as St. Paul says, our entire faith as Christians is in vain), then we have no reason to doubt when He tells us, again and again in Scripture, that His flesh is true food and His blood is true drink.  However, I know that sometimes that is easier said than put into practice.  So I’ll end with Mark 9:17-27.  A man brings his son so that Jesus might cast the demon out of him.  Jesus replies that, if the man has faith, his son will be healed.  Desiring more than anything that his son be set free, the man cries out and, putting this dilemma beautifully, says, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Next time you go into adoration, maybe take this scripture with you and pray it with Jesus there in the monstrance.