Has anyone else come to a realization that your mother was right? Every time I load the dishwasher I think of how my mother told me I should register for Corelle (dishes) before my wedding. Of course it was practical, but I wanted something unique. Nine years later I’m still wishing I had taken her advice as my dishes are heavier, thicker, more breakable, and just don’t fit as nicely into my dishwasher or cupboards.
Dishes! Such a trivial matter, but have you ever looked back and realized that Mother Church was right? If you are Catholic there is a list of counter cultural teachings you may have found yourself at odds over. Chastity until marriage, natural family planning (NFP), or that life begins at conception, are just a few issues where one could potentially not see eye to eye with Mother.
Personally, I have generally felt called to honor the teachings of my Mother Church. I have been called ‘sad’ for adhering to church teachings that are in today’s culture considered “old-fashioned.” It is hubris for someone to think that they know better than the Church. (This is in reference to moral teachings not something specific one priest or person said). I don’t think of myself as following blindly, but I am willing on reputation to give the Church the benefit of the doubt.
I used the following analogy to explain why I try to honor the Catholic faith, despite not necessarily understanding 100% of its underlying principles. My grandfather died when I was in grade school. I have few, but fond memories of him (picking and snitching raspberries together is one of them). He was a farmer, hardworking, intelligent, and devoted to his family and faith. If he had left me a message instructing me to do something, unless I had a compelling reason not to, I would honor his request. If he told me God revealed this to him, I would be even more apt to take his advice! I see value not only in the traditions I don’t fully understand, but especially the moral teachings of the church this way. And in hindsight I have never been burned (pun unintended). How could I pretend to know better than my grandpa, a wise old man, or better than my Mother with 2000 years experience! Just as our parents have our best interest in mind and are able to see the big picture, so does the Church.
Natural family planning (NFP) is an example of this sort of difficult teaching. NFP is what the Catholic Church teaches as the way to honor God, our spouse and ourselves in planning children. I don’t want this post to be all about NFP, but briefly let me sum it up in case there are readers unfamiliar with it. NFP uses a woman’s personal signs of fertility to identify ovulation and if avoiding pregnancy is desired, abstinence during those days of fertility is required (This is NOT the Rhythm Method). Two quick stats: NFP is 99% effective at avoiding pregnancy (if done correctly) and more impressively the divorce rate of NFP couples is <2%! I feel like NFP never dissociates the power from the pleasure of sex. Sex is one of the strongest bonds we have in a relationship. It is beautiful and holy; the use of contraceptives or sterilization risks reducing sex to something comparatively shallow (merely physical).
Several years ago I was part of a discussion group at church and a physician in the group told us a bit about how Plan B emergency contraception (a potential abortifacient) works and the controversy surrounding when pregnancy/life begins- at conception or implantation. He pointed out that naturally a high percentage of fertilized eggs do not go on to implant successfully and many women have probably conceived, but not even really realized it. I can relate as I have had several late periods that I attributed to something such as this. This discussion had me thinking. Did I have two miscarriages? It didn’t seem right, but saying life doesn’t start until implantation didn’t seem right either. If it is growing it is alive, right? Implantation occurs on average 9 days after fertilization and the embryo already consists of hundreds of cells. On the other hand, it seems like a waste God would avoid to give these very little beings a soul knowing (He is all knowing) they wouldn’t even implant properly. But as this quote from the Vatican so aptly articulated in 1974, “Conception is the beginning of human life. From the time that an ovum is fertilized a new life begins that is neither that of the father nor of the mother. It is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never become human if it were not human already.”~ Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion, 1974 ~
In my pondering how did I reconcile this apparent disconnect, between not feeling like something inside of me died and knowing that life as we know it begins at conception? Did you know that newborn babies will perish if they are not loved? If the physical needs of a newborn are met, but they are not shown love, for example being held, skin to skin contact, they fail to thrive. This made me think, we, from our earliest most vulnerable state of being, need God’s love to thrive. God has made us in His image, but it isn’t in His physical image, it is in our non-physical selves (soul), our capacity for love and feeling. What if the reason the multitudes of embryos don’t survive through implantation, is because God didn’t implant His love during conception (soul)?
Are you sitting on the fence about the ethics of Plan B? If a woman has ovulated and intercourse follows a human is potentially conceived, taking Plan B prevents implantation. Shouldn’t this life be left in God’s hands? Let’s see what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say:
2323 Because it should be treated as a person from conception, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed like every other human being.
Plan B is available in the US over the counter to girls 15 years of age and older. It is also routinely administered to women post rape without much thought as to the moral delicacy of the situation. I know this is a touchy subject, but isn’t playing God what got Adam and Eve and consequently the rest of us into this mess in the first place? Does having the power of the internet somehow give us the supernatural ability to be an expert on anything and everything? Does our culture promote a superiority of our own free thinking/spirituality that negates the need for God or the Church?
American culture is very freedom oriented. Following rules or submitting to an authority is uncool. The cool thing to do is whatever feels right. This is just a little bit too much like whatever feels good to me. In G.K. Chesterton’s book, “The Man Who Was Thursday,” he had a great insight about good vs evil. The good guys are good they fight for what is right. The bad guys are not for evil that would be too obvious; they aim to destroy the difference between right and wrong. This is called Relativism and it is rampant in modern thought, that there is no absolute truth (which ironically is stated as an absolute truth!) How often are we pro-lifers dismissed as judgmental? Why because we believe that there is a difference between right and wrong? There is a difference between right and wrong, there are moral truths. Being unfaithful to ones marriage vows is wrong. Abortion is wrong. It is more than an opinion. Note: it is okay to judge principles not people!
How do you know what is the truth? Religion functions to help in this pursuit. For example, I don’t have time to translate the bible from its original form. Is it bad for me to say that I let the Church give me the cliff notes? Now you ask, but what religion do I trust? I would suggest you let the Catholic Church be your guide, of course I may be biased : ) I can see where you might be confused though since there is only one Jesus Christ, one Holy Spirit, one truth, yet over 30,000 denominations of Christianity. Note many of these denominations have A LOT of truth in common, it may just be the style in which it is presented and emphasized. Much has been written and can be easily found about the authority of the Catholic Church, so I’m not going to get into that here. For me though, it is the stories of the saints that have always spoke the clearest to my heart. This blog is already too long, but think about the holy men and women that have gone before us and have used their Catholic faith to be in such communion with God, they received the stigmata, or their bodies lay in a state of incorruptibility. Just as I would trust my grandfather, I trust my Church because I know it to be hard working, wise, and diligent in the pursuit of the Truth.
Recently, I read a C.S. Lewis quote from “Mere Christianity” that inspired me to write this blog. “Do not be scared of the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority.”
Eat your vegetables, they are good for you. As a child this is impossible to believe! How can it be true that the most disgusting looking and tasting foods are the best for you?! As we become older and more mature we realize that our parents were right- vegetables are good for us! We feel better and have more energy the more greens we eat, and they really aren’t as disgusting as we once thought. Are we mature enough in our spiritual lives to see that Mother Church and the Holy Father are right? Can we recognize they have the big picture, and they want what is best for us in this life and the next?