Posts Tagged ‘Chastity’

Conversion Insights – Part II by Kathleen Prevost

In 12 Converts on 2015/08/07 at 12:00 AM


As a young Christian adult, I wandered. I attended church wherever I was employed as an organist at the time.  I read the Bible and devotional books regularly, but my prayers were sporadic at best, and I had no heart whatsoever for the poor.  Because of the example my family and neighbors had set for me, I had formed healthy (if ascetic!) habits early on: no drinking, no smoking, no dancing, no sex.  After college I stopped teetotaling, and my first date with my future husband was at a Texas two-stepping dance hall; but I continued to be celibate, understanding that sex and marriage should go together and that I didn’t want sexual diseases or pregnancy, which at the time seemed to me equally undesirable.

When marriage approached, I thought, “Well, I need to get on the Pill, because that’s what one does.”  I made an appointment at the university health clinic and told the nurse what I wanted.  She replied, “We can’t do that for you because this is a Catholic university.”  I was shocked and upset.  I knew nothing of Catholic teaching on sexuality.  Living as the typical impoverished graduate student, I had no money and relied on the university health plan.

Eventually I made my way to a bookstore near the university, where I found one of the Billings books on natural family planning.4  I really liked what I read – not at all for religious reasons, as neither my husband nor I had the remotest inclination to become Catholic at the time.  Rather, I strongly disliked the idea of suppressing my fertility with drugs as if fertility were a disease.  My husband, who long before had begun to ponder the moral issues surrounding sexuality and procreation, agreed to give it a try.

So, in order to avoid the Pill, we began living in the way married Catholics are taught to do.  Becoming accustomed to natural family planning helped us later find reasonable the Catholic instruction on marital chastity.  I read Oxford professor Elizabeth Anscombe’s essay Contraception and Chastity4

She defended Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae and traced its roots through centuries of Catholic theological development.  I also read Pope John Paul II’s writings on marriage and family, generally known as his “theology of the body.”  Before Vatican II, Flannery O’Connor wrote in her humorous and unsentimental way: “The Church’s stand on birth control is the most absolutely spiritual of all her stands and with all of us being materialists at heart, there is little wonder that it causes unease.  I wish various [priests] would quit trying to defend it by saying that the world can support 40 billion. I will rejoice in the day when they say: This is right, whether we all rot on top of each other or not, dear children, as we certainly may. Either practice restraint or be prepared for crowding.”

Since then, Pope John Paul II transformed Catholic teaching about chastity.  His theology of the body took the church doctrine that O’Connor called “absolutely spiritual” and made it concrete and real.  He did so with particular insight into women’s gifts and desires.5   I was greatly encouraged to find this thoughtful Christian instruction which celebrates human sexuality and domestic love.

The Value of Life

After our marriage, we joined an Episcopal church guided by a faithful, wise, humble, and joyful priest.  The benevolent parishioners there became, and still are, like family.  They welcomed us into their network of friendships.  Through work with the homeless and hungry in our town, they taught us to care for our disadvantaged neighbors.

Time passed, and we did not have our first child for several years.  I had been indifferent to   motherhood, wanting to complete my education first.  I had been ambivalent about abortion, seeing it as the woman’s prerogative and a necessary evil after rape or incest. But when we began to try in earnest, conception didn’t happen for a year.  Suddenly I wasn’t in control anymore and something deeply desired appeared unobtainable.  For the first time, I began to see childbearing as something more than simply a matter of my will to do or do not.

Our first child was born, followed soon by a second.  Then we suffered three miscarriages over three years. Each miscarriage occurred during the first three months – the period of time during which most abortions are performed. I held what gynecologists euphemistically refer to as the “products of conception” in my hand, and cried.  These heartbreaking losses compelled me to see new life as a treasure, a gift, not the immature and somehow less worthy beginnings of a complete human person.  I saw that the response to an act of violence against a woman should not be another act of violence against the woman and her baby.6   Through suffering, I began to have more of a heart for all the poor – those who are materially impoverished and politically oppressed everywhere, including the unborn.

We went on to have three more children.  The last, Elizabeth, died at 20 weeks in utero. The ultrasound had revealed no complications; three days later, my water broke.  A baby doesn’t die immediately in such circumstances.  To avoid risk of infection, my medical friends advised us to terminate. But we heard her strong heartbeat and couldn’t do it.  I remember thinking as I lay in the maternity ward bed: “I am her hospice.”  She died three days later. After delivery, we held her and spoke about her with her siblings.  My oldest daughter fashioned a large “It’s a Girl!” ribbon and hung it on the hospital room door.

As painful as it was, and as much as I long to have known her, Elizabeth’s brief life was a beautiful gift.  It made concrete the church’s counsel to treasure life “from conception to natural death.”  Our understanding came the hard way, through experience.  But the church has been valuing life for two millennia.  In the Roman empire Christians were viewed with alarm because they broke the conventions of the time: they loved all men (not solely their friends or people of status), and they refused to leave their unwanted newborns by the side of the road to die.  In medieval times St. Francis renounced his wealth and heritage in order to live as a brother to the humble and the impoverished.  In recent years, the Catholic church has aided the poor more prominently and vocally than any other large group in Christendom, through official church teaching, through Catholic charities, and through luminous saints like Mother Theresa.

Immigrants, the elderly, those in economic poverty, outcasts because of status or skin color, the handicapped, the unborn – the church shelters them all.

Pope Address USA Bishops on Crisis of Marriage and the Family

In 06 Scripture & Theology on 2012/03/09 at 11:03 AM

Vatican City, 9 March 2012 (VIS) – This morning in the Vatican Benedict XVI received a group of prelates from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who have recently competed their “ad limina” visit. Extracts of his English-language remarks to them are given below:

“In this talk I would like to discuss … the contemporary crisis of marriage and the family, and, more generally, of the Christian vision of human sexuality. It is in fact increasingly evident that a weakened appreciation of the indissolubility of the marriage covenant, and the widespread rejection of a responsible, mature sexual ethic grounded in the practice of chastity, have led to grave societal problems bearing an immense human and economic cost”.

“In this regard, particular mention must be made of the powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage. The Church’s conscientious effort to resist this pressure calls for a reasoned defence of marriage as a natural institution consisting of a specific communion of persons, essentially rooted in the complementarity of the sexes and oriented to procreation. Sexual differences cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the definition of marriage. Defending the institution of marriage as a social reality is ultimately a question of justice, since it entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike.

“In our conversations, some of you have pointed with concern to the growing difficulties encountered in communicating the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family in its integrity, and to a decrease in the number of young people who approach the Sacrament of Matrimony. Certainly we must acknowledge deficiencies in the catechesis of recent decades, which failed at times to communicate the rich heritage of Catholic teaching on marriage as a natural institution elevated by Christ to the dignity of a Sacrament, the vocation of Christian spouses in society and in the Church, and the practice of marital chastity”.

“On the practical level, marriage preparation programmes must be carefully reviewed to ensure that there is greater concentration on their catechetical component and their presentation of the social and ecclesial responsibilities entailed by Christian marriage. In this context we cannot overlook the serious pastoral problem presented by the widespread practice of cohabitation, often by couples who seem unaware that it is gravely sinful, not to mention damaging to the stability of society. I encourage your efforts to develop clear pastoral and liturgical norms for the worthy celebration of matrimony which embody an unambiguous witness to the objective demands of Christian morality, while showing sensitivity and concern for young couples”.

“In this great pastoral effort there is an urgent need for the entire Christian community to recover an appreciation of the virtue of chastity. … It is not merely a question of presenting arguments, but of appealing to an integrated, consistent and uplifting vision of human sexuality. The richness of this vision is more sound and appealing than the permissive ideologies exalted in some quarters; these in fact constitute a powerful and destructive form of counter-catechesis for the young. … Chastity, as the Catechism reminds us, involves an ongoing “apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom”. In a society which increasingly tends to misunderstand and even ridicule this essential dimension of Christian teaching, young people need to be reassured that “if we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, absolutely nothing, of what makes life free, beautiful and great”.

“Let me conclude by recalling that all our efforts in this area are ultimately concerned with the good of children, who have a fundamental right to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. Children are the greatest treasure and the future of every society: truly caring for them means recognising our responsibility to teach, defend and live the moral virtues which are the key to human fulfilment. It is my hope that the Church in the United States, however chastened by the events of the past decade, will persevere in its historic mission of educating the young and thus contribute to the consolidation of that sound family life which is the surest guarantee of intergenerational solidarity and the health of society as a whole”.


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