The Lie of Cohabitation

Today I want to write about a topic that is of increasing popularity in our culture: cohabitation. I myself know this topic all too well because I lived it for 2.5 years. Before I met my husband, I lived with a man who was not my husband. In that time period I worked hard to twist and distort a lie into truth. I tried to make an untruth which I knew to be false, into a good. It was a battle I waged and thankfully lost. I lived with this man without the slightest real desire for marriage on either of our parts and when marriage did come up it was only to assuage the ever increasing guilt I felt and to try to right the error of my life. God did not leave me in my sin, thanks to His abundant mercy, and thankfully, God had better plans for both of us.

Our culture has convinced itself that living together outside of marriage is perfectly natural. In reality, it is anything but natural. It causes great separation, division, and harm to the dignity of the parties involved. While parties who cohabitate may love one another on some level, they are inherently in a disordered arrangement that denies the very dignity of the two people involved, the good of the two involved, and violates God’s designs for men and women. Cohabitation by its very nature does not resemble marriage. Cohabitation is to will sin on one another and to remain separated from one another. Here are some reasons why the marriage and cohabitation are not the same thing and why cohabitation is so destructive:

Cohabitation is not a we. It is still two individuals.

Oftentimes, as was my own case, a man and woman in a romantic relationship decide to live together to save money. Other reasons are it is socially acceptable or a trying out period. I will get to the latter in a bit. When two people decide to live together it is not a coming together into a union. Instead much of the time it looks like a roommate situation which also includes fornication and the use of contraception, both of which are gravely sinful and can kill the soul by cutting the two people off from God. Property is still his and hers, money is still divided, and mentally the two people are not one. God is often a distant idea or He is twisted into a “loving” Father who accepts all of our behavior. Cohabitation cannot bring about a union of two people because it lacks the promise and covenantal relationship of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Cohabitation also lacks the central involvement of the Most Holy Trinity within the relationship.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

The Synod, Archbishop Chaput, and Despair

I just read Archbishop Chaput’s intervention at the Synod over at Edward Pentin’s blog at the National Catholic Register and I believe it touched on a major issue in the Church right now. It is not just one in relation to marriage and the family, but also a lack of hope in the Church and the power of the Holy Spirit to guide her. Here is the text of the intervention:

Marriage as a Witness to Hope

“Brothers,

The Instrumentum seemed to present us with two conflicting views: pastoral despair or a decision to hope. When Jesus experienced the pastoral despair of his Apostles, he reminded them that for man a thing may seem impossible, but for God all things are possible.

In mastering nature for the purpose of human development, we human beings have wounded our oceans and the air we breathe. We’ve poisoned the human body with contraceptives. And we’ve scrambled the understanding of our own sexuality. In the name of individual fulfillment, we’ve busied ourselves with creating a new Babel of tyranny that feeds our desires but starves the soul.

Paragraphs 7-10 of the Instrumentum did a good job of describing the condition of today’s families. But overall, the text engenders a subtle hopelessness. This leads to a spirit of compromise with certain sinful patterns of life and the reduction of Christian truths about marriage and sexuality to a set of beautiful ideals — which then leads to surrendering the redemptive mission of the Church.

The work of this synod needs to show much more confidence in the Word of God, the transformative power of grace, and the ability of people to actually live what the Church believes. And it should honor the heroism of abandoned spouses who remain faithful to their vows and the teaching of the Church.

George Bernanos said that the virtue of hope is “despair, overcome.” We have no reason to despair. We have every reason to hope. Pope Francis saw this himself in Philadelphia. Nearly 900,000 people crowded the streets for the papal Mass that closed the World Meeting of Families.

They were there because they love the Pope, but also because they believe in marriage. They believe in the family. And they were hungry to be fed by real food from the Vicar of Jesus Christ.

We need to call people to perseverance in grace and to trust in the greatness God intended for them — not confirm them in their errors. Marriage embodies Christian hope – hope made flesh and sealed permanently in the love of a man and a woman.

This synod needs to preach that truth more clearly with the radical passion of the Cross and Resurrection.”

There is a great amount of despair that is coming out of certain corners of the Church. For instance, the German Church demonstrates a profound sense of despair and loss of faith in its desire to conform to the world rather than the Blessed Trinity. Many in that Bishop’s Conference, not all, have forgotten that our baptismal call is to be conformed to Christ throughout our lives. That means entering into the Paschal Mystery and dying to self, dying to our desires, and inclinations, most especially those which are disordered and sinful. The reason for this is not because God is a cold-hearted authoritarian who desires to rule over us as a tyrant. No, what these men and many throughout the Church who have chosen this world rather than the next, is that God wants us to be fully human. He created us, so He knows what will make us fully alive and fully human. This occurs through an abandonment of sin, which is a difficult and life-long process only made possible through grace.

This despair leaves Jesus in the tomb. It is to scatter because Our Lord has been crucified. Many have forgotten that Jesus has in fact Risen, that He reigns in Heaven, and that the Holy Spirit is who guides the truth and the Church. We cannot give into despair because the culture is against us. The culture has always been against us. Jesus came to give the world a counter-cultural message, a message that goes against the depravity of sin, and the truth that relies on grace. He promised us that we would be persecuted. The question comes down to this: Are we a Resurrection people or not?

A good deal of the ranting and raving at the Synod and on social media comes from those who have lost hope. They see a Church of sinners, a hierarchy of sinners, and a seductive world. Many have cornered themselves into one of two camps: the Church is going to fall apart or we must become like the world. We forget that the answer is neither. It is that we must proclaim the Good News. We must share the joy of Jesus Christ who lives and reigns forever. That with grace all things are possible. We can overcome our sinful inclinations, even sexual ones, by the power of God. It is not by our own power, but Christ’s that will guide us and help us to persevere in the long arduous journey.

Do we truly believe in the power of the Paschal Mystery? Do we believe that God has and will redeem us? Do we believe that Jesus is who he said he is? If the answer is no, then yes, it is right to despair. That means there is no redemption and that human depravity will continue to spiral to deeper and deeper depths. If the answer is yes, then we must stop living in defeat. The world senses our despair and the vultures are circling overhead. Either we believe that Christ will protect the Church from error, or we don’t believe in Him. Either we believe that redemption is possible or we don’t. Conforming the Church to the world is to live without redemption. It is to believe that human beings are incapable of greatness, holiness, and saintliness. If we are redeemed, then we must share that redemption with others. We must be honest about the difficult task. We must be honest that human beings cannot do it on their. This is only possible through Christ.

Many people focus on the sins of the hierarchy. They obsess about a “Gay Mafia” or other agendas within the Magisterium. There have been competing agendas since the beginning of the Church. Today is not unique. Most of us are not in a position to do anything about it except pray. Gossiping and ranting in social media is not a proper response to such concern. Gossip is a sin for a reason. If there are concerns then write to the proper channels, pray, and trust in Christ’s promises. The sins of the hierarchy, the very same sins many of us in the laity struggle with, do not change the Church in her ontological reality. She is the Bride of Christ and protected from error by the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t mean that our sins don’t damage the Mystical Body, but it does not change the Church, nor does it change God.

What if some were unfaithful? Will their infidelity nullify the fidelity of God? Of course not! God must be true, though every human being is a liar, as it is written:“That you may be justified in your words, and conquer when you are judged.”
But if our wickedness provides proof of God’s righteousness, what can we say? Is God unjust, humanly speaking, to inflict his wrath? Of course not! For how else is God to judge the world? But if God’s truth redounds to his glory through my falsehood, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not say—as we are accused and as some claim we say—that we should do evil that good may come of it? Their penalty is what they deserve.

Romans 3:3-8

It is time to stop focusing so much on this world and the sins of our neighbor. It is time for us to live as people in hope and in the glory of the Paschal Mystery. It is through our lives and our striving to live in holiness that people will come to know the truth. It is impossible for us to engage the world if all we do is either project doom and gloom out over social media and in our daily lives, or if we say the Church is “out-dated” and must conform to this age. Neither are truth. Both are a form of despair. Instead, we must do as St. Paul did and proclaim: Christ has risen! Pax Christi.

Catholic Link: 10 Powerhouse Quotes from JPII’s Theology of the Body

I have become a contributor for Catholic Link-English. Here is my first published piece for them.

It’s summer and that means many couples will be entering into the Sacrament of Marriage. If you want to give a great gift to your future spouse, then I would suggest studying a bit of Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

You can find information and guides at the Theology of the Body Institute’s website (tobinstitute.com). Learning about God’s plan for my husband and me, as male and female, as well as God’s call for communion with him changed the course of our relationship before we conferred the Sacrament of Marriage on one another. As you marry, remember that your Sacrament is in communion with the Blessed Trinity and that God is calling you to a deep encounter with him through your spouse.

Theology of the Body is a compilation of 129 talks that St. John Paul II gave at his Wednesday audiences from 1979 to 1984. They are a treasure trove of theological depth into what it means to be male and female in relation to one another and to God. Here are 10 amazing quotes to get you started:

Read the rest over at Catholic Link.

Television: Art vs the Obscene and the Catholic Answer, Part I

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I have found that one of the things we Catholics do not like to think about is what we watch on television or read in novels. In fact, when I have discussed this with friends and shared my own struggles, I usually encounter a great deal of push back. We don’t like to be reminded that our choices in the Christian life expand even to our choices in entertainment. I want to consider these choices and the dangers of much of what is on television or in novels these days, and why Catholics must guard themselves in a culture that would lead us astray with glee. In this post I want to focus on gratuitous and graphic sex in television shows, especially on Premium channels on cable. In the second part of the series I will focus on the glorification of violence and how we can discern if what we are watching glorifies violence and leads us to engage in voyeurism.

A few years ago the show Scandal came out on ABC. I enjoy political intrigue and started to watch it. I really should have known better as the premise of the show rests in an adulterous affair with the President of the United States, but no, I was slow to acknowledge the sick feeling I felt after watching the show. It took me a season to realize why my conscience was telling me to stop watching it. It is graphically violent, focuses on adultery as romantic, and most of all, had absolutely no objective good in it. Not a single character possessed the good. There was no hero or heroine. Every single character was objectively evil on some level. It’s quite shocking really, since much of Western culture is still driven by the idea of good overcoming evil. That being said, no one should watch a show with no redeeming value and that glorifies sin. Adultery is objectively evil and destroys the people involved. I should not watch a show that glorifies and tries to paint over this reality. I finally decided to stop watching it and I didn’t miss it.

Why does the good matter, even on television? It matters because we are a people of redemption. We understand the pit that sin leads to and the ever present destruction of mankind, but we know that evil has been overcome by Jesus Christ. Evil does not win and evil is never good, no matter what our culture tries to tell us. Many television shows draw people in and they don’t realize they are watching a show that only depicts evil and no good. Evil can easily be wrapped up in a glamorous package. Why shouldn’t I watch adultery, “gay marriage”, the protection of evil and morally reprehensible behavior? I don’t do those things. Well, the problem is that these shows can dull our sense of what is morally correct. This has been apparent with the Catholic dissent on the nature of authentic marriage. We see enough “gay marriages” on television and somehow that becomes acceptable. Divorce is a foregone conclusion in our culture. Hollywood is our Magisterium, rather than Rome. We start to second guess ourselves and our faith. We begin to embrace the all consuming nihilism of our age that tells us this is it. All that awaits us is oblivion, nothingness. Make the most of it, even if it means using people and then discarding them as garbage when we are done. This philosophy is diametrically opposed to the message of the Gospel. What we ingest has a direct impact on our soul. Through our viewing we tell Hollywood that the garbage they are producing is acceptable. We help with the ratings.

Yesterday, I watched a thread on Facebook related to Game of Thrones that caused me some concern. The amount of justification for watching a show with graphic sex and violence is a problem in the Catholic world. I noticed this when thousands of practicing Catholics claimed that 50 Shades of Grey was acceptable reading, when in fact it is pornography, violent pornography. First, graphic sex scenes are not “art” no matter how we much we want to justify our choices. Pornography is not art, it is the obscene. Art is to bring human beings to the good and the true. The same goes for over-the-top sex scenes that are essentially pornographic. We just tell ourselves that it is not pornography because it is on HBO and Starz not a porn channel or Cinemax. That’s just us engaging in mental gymnastics so that we can hold onto a particular vice.

I will give you an example from my own life that is quite recent. Someone had told me that I should check out the show Outlander on Starz because I like British dramas. Mind you I have not read the novels. I watched the first episode which has multiple graphic marital sex scenes in it. Marital sex is a beautiful and holy thing, but we don’t need to watch graphic scenes that incite us to lust in order to understand this point. The show gets worse from there, not to mention that regardless of time period adultery is adultery. I should have shut it off. My conscience told me to shut it off. The struggle with lust told me to turn it off, but I didn’t. Instead I had to hang my head in shame and drag myself back to the Confessional. In full disclosure, this is not a sin that I have struggled with a lot. I have shared the two most recent experiences and they are spread out by years, but I am married and I have a lot of male friends. I know that this is a serious struggle for some people, which is why I am writing. When I did get to Confession, my Confessor said that in actuality there is not much good on television and that he sticks to soccer in order to avoid the lust that our society invites us to in a great deal of shows. He’s Scottish, so the soccer reference is understandable. My Confessor did not encourage me to watch these shows, in fact, he did the opposite. He told me to steer clear of them.

I am not suggesting Puritanism. There is a great deal of art in which the body is shown in its full beautiful nude display throughout human history, but there is a difference between showing the beauty and sacredness of human beings and graphic sex scenes that move us to lust. Sex is holy. Sex is fun and meant to be enjoyed. It is not meant to be profaned. Even sexual sin can be demonstrated without a move into the pornographic.

One of my favorite novels, and its movie adaptions, is Evelyn Waugh’s, Brideshead Revisted. No one could accuse Waugh of Purtianism. The novel is rife with hedonism to include adultery, lust, homosexual acts, and alcoholism. The difference is that Waugh is not pointing to those things as good. He is showing how in our brokenness and darkness, God is always working for our salvation. In both movie adaptions, the one with Jeremy Irons and the shorter one with Matthew Goode, this hedonism is on display in all of its forms, but without appealing to the graphic. One scene in the Matthew Goode version shows that adultery can even be committed with most of the characters’ clothes on.

Many people trying to defend their Catholicism and their graphic television choices try to appeal to art or history. I even saw someone try to claim Scripture’s sexual sins and graphic violence as justification. This is merely a cognitive dissonance for something that we know to be wrong. Scripture demonstrates the depravity of mankind in light of God’s salvation. There’s a major difference between Scripture and Game of Thrones where sexuality is used for illicit reasons and that is all. Television shows can be true to the deprivation of humanity without resorting to lust filled sex scenes. But, in reality, these shows are glorifying hedonism, not pointing to the brokenness of sexual sin. Let’s at least be honest. These shows are not interested in redemption. So that argument is false and being used to justify sin. If you don’t believe me, then take it to your parish priest. Tell them exactly what you have been watching, including graphic sex scenes and gruesome violence. See what they say. It’s probably not going to be what you want to hear, but it will be what you need to hear.

Catholic art has always given an authentic portrayal of the human person, but in light of Revelation. We have a real opportunity here to move Hollywood to provide actual art. We need to stop supporting trash and force them to provide us with the beautiful and the ugly in a proper light. If you are a Catholic who has struggled with watching shows like this, then go to Confession. Trust me, the priests have heard it all. I had to go Confess this very sin of lust recently. I allowed myself to get sucked into the lie and I lied to myself in the process. I am married. I know that sex is beautiful, so why on earth am I ok with counterfeits on television? Why am I ok with watching our culture destroy one of the great gifts that God has given us? I would encourage you to seriously consider what you are watching or reading. Ask yourself, is this strengthening my soul? Does this help me grow closer to Christ? Will this help me become a saint? Does this serve the mission? Chances are, the answer will be no.  When that happens, pray for the grace to abandon those shows and books. It might be hard for a week or two, but eventually, you will forget all about them. The reality is that the closer we draw to Christ the less we want to have anything to do with counterfeits. God bless.

The Need for Conversion: Catholic Sexual Ethics

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I have decided to add another post into my current series on Catholic teaching on sexual ethics and “gay marriage”. In a perfect world, all of us would fully assent to Church teaching before we professed to be Catholic. We would still sin, but all of us would, at least intellectually, assent to infallible teaching in love obedience, and humility. We would not put ourselves in grave danger by ignoring Church teaching and blatantly doing the opposite. For many of us, that just is not the case. It may be because we have never fully understood that, as Catholics, we are required to submit to Christ and His Church, including the hard teaching. A lot of priests and catechists have led people astray on this point over the last 50 years. Somehow our own conscience has begun to supersede the Church, in a nod to Descartes and the rampant relativism of our day. This is false, but is prevalent within the Church. I have done it in the past myself.

First of all we need to ask ourselves if we have really encountered Christ. Are we actually converted to Him. Are we ourselves evangelized? Is Christ the center of my life? Do I love Him more than anything? This takes a lifetime to do. Do I want His will over my own? Do I believe that the Church is headed by Christ, not men? Do I understand and believe that the Church’s teachings are in fact Christ’s? Do I believe that the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, not a symbol? That is our starting point. Can I honestly say that I love and want to follow Jesus Christ? Then the rest comes into play.

I think that many people are ignorant of the Church and her teaching. They go to Mass on Sunday and think that is enough. They rely on their grade school level catechesis and think that is the end. There has not been as much emphasis on adult education until recent years. And even when these programs are available, the same 20 people show up. Many people do not think, or even realize, that study of the Gospels, Church documents, lives of the saints, etc. is a lifetime endeavor. I think many parents, in a striking similarity to the dominance of public education in this country for the past 150 years, think that religious educators, like myself, are responsible for teaching their children the Faith. This is also false. Parents are the first teachers of the Faith. I just help out.

Many families do not even pray outside of Sunday Mass. I have been astounded over the years as a catechist at the lack of prayer in family homes. I guess it should not surprise me, because it was not prevalent in my own home growing up. Once again, I think that families do not realize that being a Catholic is an all encompassing way of living. It makes us “not of this world, but the next”. We are planted here on earth, but Heavenly pursuits are our aim. It takes a lifetime to let go. Prayer begets prayer. The more we pray daily, the more we desire that prayer and union with God. Prayer leads to conversion.

Church teaching on sexual ethics in the face of an over-sexualized culture such as ours is hard to swallow. Mainly because people do not take the time to understand, or even teach (including way too many priests), the beauty that is God’s plan for the human person, which encompasses Theology of the Body. Most of us are told don’t do XY and Z, but never told why. As someone who abandoned Church teaching and lived with a boyfriend in her mid-Twenties, I can tell you that the WHY matters. So does orthodoxy. If you tell me you ignore Church teaching on one issue, then why should I not ignore others? This is the dictatorship of relativism that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI warned about. From the outside looking in, if you blatantly ignore it, then why shouldn’t I, is a terrible way to evangelize. This is how I felt back then. I am examining my own example in the past here. If I don’t fully live the Church’s call and her teaching, then I cannot evangelize. People want examples not words.

Conversion takes time. It takes prayer and it takes the Sacraments, especially Confession. I know. Constance, are you bringing up Confession again? I cannot tell you how important Confession truly is for the soul and for our path to holiness. Think about it this way. Blessed John Paul II who is about to be canonized went to Confession at least once a week. Many of the saints went daily. They are saints and feel the need for that frequent of Confession. I am not nearly a saint, so how often should I be going?! OFTEN! The Church’s requirement of once a year, except for mortal sin (it must be Confessed right away), is a minimum. I personally cannot go more than two weeks without needing Confession, and I am not even dabbling in the mortal sin arena these days. Not everyone is like that. Some people need monthly or bi-monthly. Figure out what is best for you, but go more than once a year. Take your kids to Confession!

Conversion may take serious prayer and many discussions with a priest. For me it was an “ah-ha” moment at a Theology of the Body seminar and a realization of my own incoherence at claiming to be Catholic, but ignoring Church teaching. Once I understood, I was all in. I still struggle at times. I have had three miscarriages, so it can be hard for me to want to get pregnant again. Using NFP is not easy, but it is the only option in line with God’s plan, until things stabilize for me. As hard as it is, I want to learn to live in line with God’s will, not my own. So I embrace it through the difficulties and fears.

We also live in a culture that thinks that marriage is about “me” and that is why no fault divorce and “gay marriage” are two sides of the same coin. If marriage is about “me” and not children and God’s plan for man and woman, then anything goes. Why limit it to just two people? What about inanimate objects? A woman married a bridge last year. Or why not marry myself, which is becoming popular? We live in a society that puts “me” and my desires at the center of all things. This is diametrically opposed to the Catholic worldview. I am not the center of all things, Christ is at the center. My husband and daughter are more important than I am. Sure I have to take care of myself, but my wants and desires are not primary. This is a major struggle for me in my sinful nature.

That same over sexualized culture makes things like pornography and promiscuity normal. Books like 50 Shades of Grey, Anne Rice, or certain romance novels convince women that they are not committing the sin of pornography when they actually are. Women are not as visual as men, so books are the preferred pornography. Reading about S&M could not be anything, but pornography. Anymore, rated “R” movies tow the line of pornography with graphic sex scenes and many wives see no harm in their husband’s Playboy subscription or occasional dabbling on the Internet. Pornography violates God’s desire for us because it makes human beings into objects of our own lust. Regardless of how we intend to watch or read something, sexual responses are a part of being human. Even if a character is fictitious it is meant to invoke lust in us. I will get more into this when I write about Theology of the Body at a later date.

Here is the crux of it, being Catholic is hard. Following Christ is the hardest thing we will ever do. No one said it would be easy, least of all Christ. Many of us in this country feel safe and secure, as if no one would ever attack us for our Faith. First, this is ignorance of American history and the Catholic Church and second, it ignores Scripture. We are promised persecution by Christ Himself. Being Catholic is “weird”. I personally love that weirdness, but it can be hard for others to swallow. Look at it this way, I am even weird in Catholic circles these days.

Here are some examples: We do not watch shows like Modern Family or anything that is meant to support the “gay marriage” agenda. Not because I do not like gay people, I love them and have had gay friends, but because I know the intent is to indoctrinate me. We do not watch rated “R” comedies anymore because they are sexually vulgar and mock our understanding of the human person. I do not read popular fiction, especially those which I know are pornographic. I know that Disney has jumped on the “gay marriage” band-wagon. I pray at Planned Parenthood. I boycott companies that support abortion and “gay marriage”. Church functions and requirements supersede all secular engagements in my week. My child will not play sports on Sundays. I read Catholic items before secular. I see the world as a Catholic. The Faith is the center, the very life blood, of my life. It makes me weird. I am okay with that. It is one of the many reasons I am a Lay Dominican. That is how Dominicans live. I am not a saint, but that is my goal, God willing. It should be every Christian’s goal.

Pray for conversion daily. We all need God to ‘help us in our unbelief’ in one way or another. Read up on what the Church teaches. Study the Faith. Pray about the Faith. Being Catholic is to delve into the deepest of oceans and then go even further on to Eternity. It would take so many lifetimes to take in the richness of the Faith. Talk to an orthodox priest. Let Him tell you the truth and help you reach that point of conversion. Find a good spiritual director who knows and loves the fullness of the Faith. Put Christ first in your life. Radical things will begin to happen.