Unequally Yoked

When my husband and I got married we were both Catholic, but we weren’t fully practicing the faith. Not only were we not well formed, we didn’t know it. My husband and I went to Mass on Sunday occasionally, if it was convenient, and also on Christmas, Ash Wednesday, and Easter.

One Sunday, we arrived at Mass and found there was a new pastor. This pastor’s homilies were like nothing I had ever heard before. In fact they made me angry! I didn’t speak to the pastor, didn’t even shake his hand on the way out the door, but for some reason I felt like I was arguing with him and so I started going to Mass every Sunday to continue the argument.

Each Sunday I would go to Mass and I would leave angry because I had just been informed of yet one more thing that I was doing wrong. I was overwhelmed with all of the rules. I was also skeptical of the pastor. I thought, “He can’t possibly know what he is talking about. He must be some kind of Catholic wacko.” I started researching and I didn’t have to dig very far to find that my pastor knew what he was talking about.

As I sat in that pew week after week I discovered that there were many areas of my life that were not in line with Church teaching. I had walked in the door pro-choice, pro-contraception, the list goes on. I found out that I was wrong.

Many other parishioners left. Several of our neighbors started shopping for a new parish with softer homilies. Some went to neighboring parishes; others went so far as to leave the Catholic Church. My husband found the difficult homilies amusing. When I tried to engage him in discussing our faith and what we should do, he would say, “Whatever you decide is fine.”

I decided we would stay. Somewhere deep inside I knew that this wasn’t about shopping for the right message so much as it was about finding the truth. My only explanation for this is that God, in His great generosity, must have given me a huge dose of grace. I began to change. I studied Catholicism. Everything I learned made so much sense that I couldn’t help but to grow in my faith. I fell in love with Holy Mother Church. I began going to daily Mass and volunteering in earnest. I was disappointed that my husband wasn’t interested, but I didn’t let that hold me back.

My new faith and his disinterest started to put stress on our marriage. It became really clear to me one Valentine’s day, when I received a Valentine’s gift basket from a girlfriend of mine. When my husband saw it I asked him to guess who had given it to me. “Probably Father Jones or Deacon Smith or the Youth Minister,” he said and walked out of the room. I was stunned. He proceeded to tell me how tired he was of my life revolving around God and the Church. He thought at first that it was a phase and that he just had to wait it out, but it was pretty clear that it wasn’t ending any time soon. He was tired of it and he wanted it to stop. I was no longer the person he had married.

unequally yokedI was devastated and yet it was clear to me that he felt jilted, like I had dumped him for God. I could understand that. My husband had been the center of my universe and now God was, and rightly so, I thought.

I sought counsel from a priest during confession and he told me that perhaps my cross right now was that I needed to tone things down a little. He didn’t mean for me to be less faithful. He meant that I should tone down my outward expression of the faith to give my husband a little space. This was my cross to bear. I left the crucifix on the wall but pulled the holy cards from the refrigerator. I cut back on my volunteer responsibilities. As I considered my primary vocation as wife, I realized that God didn’t want me to neglect my spouse in pursuit of my faith.

There was however, one area in which I couldn’t compromise. We were contracepting. Very early in my conversion process I stopped contracepting and at that point my husband chose to continue. This was very painful for me. I had learned of the beauty of the marital embrace and all that God had intended for it—that it be a complete gift of self. I yearned to give myself to my husband. And yet each time we came together I made my desire to be open to life clear and each time he denied me. The act that was supposed to be unitive was tearing us apart. I found myself wishing for a marriage “do-over”. It was humiliating to go to confession and confess my participation in my husband’s contraception. I was hurt and angry at my husband.

I finally realized that my wish for a do-over was nothing more than a pity party. I started to treat my husband with charity, not because I thought he deserved it (to the contrary, I thought he was being quite a jerk) but because I loved God. I began Natural Family Planning (NFP) on my own. My husband would have nothing to do with it. I began to refuse him on fertile days (not because I was opposed to conceiving but because history had proven that he would contracept). He continued to contracept on the other days but I found much peace in my own practice of NFP.

This went on for 3 years until I became pregnant and subsequently miscarried. My husband had surprised me by welcoming the pregnancy, and then was greatly disappointed and saddened as well. This loss was a turning point for me. I was done. I told my husband, “No more contraception. I won’t participate.” I had been patient and prayerful for 3 years but now I was done. I prayed for God to please pick up the pieces of my marriage and hold us together and mercifully He did.

Since that day my husband has never contracepted.

Several years have passed. I am at peace because my husband’s concession has allowed me to live in alignment with my faith. I continue to tone down my outward expression of my faith, and my husband is slowly but surely growing in his faith. We both have a long way to go, but praise be to God at least we are heading in the right direction!

The Pill ‘for Medical Reasons’ and that Slippery Slope

So, here goes. My birth control story.

When I was 19 years old, I came home from my first semester of college and begged my mother to take me to the gynecologist. I had been having irregular periods for about a year. So off we went, to the gynecologist appointment together: me, a 19-year old college student and virgin, and my mother, a devout Catholic very much opposed to the birth control pill.

You can surely see where this is going.

The appointment that followed may still be counted among the most horrific, humiliating experiences of my life. So, there at my very first doctor’s appointment excepting my pediatrician and orthodontist, the doctor was examining me while asking me health history questions. “Are you sexually active?” he inevitably asked, without looking up. “No,” I answered truthfully.
Next thing I know, he’s explaining that I am going to feel something cold, and before I have time to react, I am in the midst of my first (UNNECESSARY) pap smear. It. was. excruciating. I remember limping in pain out of the office 30 minutes later. He tells me to get dressed and meet him in his office. There in his office, he begins his sales speech for the pill. He tells me that it will fix the abnormal bleeding that I’ve been seeing, and help to regulate my periods. He goes on to say that it has the added benefit of treating acne, and that my skin will clear up while I’m taking it. And finally, he closes with, “And when you meet that special someone, it is a very effective form of contraception!”

My head was spinning. I remember asking how long I had to take it, and he said 6 months should be enough to get my periods back on track. OK, I thought. I can handle 6 months. It sounded like a pretty quick fix, to me. 6 months of medication, during which time my periods would be normal, and then when I came OFF the medication, they’d be normal once again from that point on.

Oh how silly and uninformed I was.

As I limped out of his office and into the waiting room, I was greeted by my mother who had a look of worry on her face. I think Abby Johnson said it best when she wrote that if only we based more of our decisions on what would make our mothers happy and proud of us, we would be so much better off. My mother knew all along, without REALLY knowing, that this was the beginning of my demise.

Still in a daze, I handed the sheet of paper the doctor had given me to the woman at the front desk. I assumed it was a follow-up sheet that I was to give to the front desk to schedule my next appointment. Then I was startled out of my daze and back into humiliation when the lady shoved the paper back at me and quite loudly quipped, “This is your prescription for birth control pills. I don’t need this!” Talk about mortification.

In case you haven’t already guessed, 6 months later when I came off the pill, my periods were anything BUT regular. However, in that interim, I had started to get used to the idea of being a sophomore in college with periods I could rely on, and more importantly, with beautiful, clear skin… especially since I was looking and waiting for a boyfriend. Now that I had stopped taking my pills, what I saw looming ahead of me was a return of crazy bleeding and acne flare-ups. NOT appealing. I told my mom I had to go back on them, but she wasn’t convinced. So off we went to gynecologist #2.

Gynecologist #2 was a very educated man, and after a brief physical exam (no pap smear), he took me to his office, and drew me pictures of ovaries with lots of tiny cysts on them. I had no idea what he was talking about, and frankly, I didn’t care. I just sat there politely pretending to listen, waiting for him to hand over the prescription for my happy pills. Which of course, he did. This time with instructions to stay on for one year.

By the end of my sophomore year, I had fallen deeply in love with a guy I had met on my first day and told my friends back home he was the one I would marry. And to my surprise, by the end of my sophomore year, he had fallen in love with me, too. We had dated briefly right before he went to study abroad (he was a year older), and now he had just come back and we were back together and very serious.

You can surely see where this is going.

About two months into a “very serious” relationship with the man I was convinced I would marry, I somehow went from virgin to … well, not. I say somehow because it wasn’t at all planned or necessarily talked about and decided. We had been physical already; such is the nature of college life, and I was no stranger to “hooking up,” but at the same time was very proud that I had not given away my virginity to just anybody. I knew that I believed in the teachings of my Church. I knew that what I was doing was wrong. But in my mind, I rationalized that sex was reserved for marriage because you are only meant to do that with the man you are married to. I really didn’t understand the complete beauty of sex at that point, but I was about to begin my education.

I remember that night vividly. Or maybe I should say that memories from that night continue to haunt me. I distinctly remember that we were very close to going that far, but still not quite there, when he suddenly jumped up and ran to his desk. I asked him what he was doing, and he said “Getting a condom … just … in case….” For some stupid reason, I assumed he meant “in case” he went too far and we were at risk for pregnancy. (I may have been stupid about the pill, but I did know about contact pregnancy.) I told him “It’s ok, I’m on the pill.” To which he pill packsresponded, “Oh… well… are you sure?” (This guy was not really known for his ability to articulate and convey an actual message.) And I responded, “Yeah, I’m sure. It’s to regulate my periods, but it still ‘works.’” (I realize now he was basically asking me if I was sure that I wanted to have sex with him. So, basically, one of the biggest decisions of my life came down not to a well thought-out weighing of consequences, but rather an ambiguous exchange of “Are you sure?” “Yeah, I’m sure.”)
And so, ignoring the underlying guilt I continued to feel every once and a while, we continued being intimate. Over Fall Break, my prescription for the pill was up, and this time I was adamant about staying on it. I threw a fit when my mother suggested I stop taking it for a while and see if my cycles normalized; because now, I actually needed that pill for contraception. But at the same time, both of us were not satisfied with the fact that no one had any answers for me about my health. WHY was I bleeding like this? WHY were my periods so irregular to begin with?? So we agreed to go together to Gyn/Midwife #3, recommended to us by my older sister. I was absolutely convinced that whether she gave us answers or not, I would be able to get more happy pills from her.

Gyn/Midwife #3 took me in her office first, alone. There she asked if I was sexually active, and I responded truthfully that I was. She explained that she wanted to run a couple of tests on me, some blood-work and an ultrasound, to find the issues that were causing my weird cycles. So we made a follow-up appointment for the following day for the ultrasound. On our way out of the office, I remember the ultrasound tech at the front desk asking me if I was a virgin. Of course being in front of my mother I said, “Yes,” and she got a look of concern on her face and said, “Oh, wait a second, we can’t do this type of ultrasound that was ordered. Hold on, let me go tell the doctor.” My face must have turned beet red. The tech came back, made minimal eye contact while she quickly said, “OK, it’ll be fine, just come tomorrow as scheduled.”
After the ultrasound and blood-work, the Midwife took me back into her office and explained my diagnosis: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). I finally had an answer for all these years of crazy cycles! She was pretty detailed in her description and finally told me the solution: (I know you’ve guessed it) The Pill. I was to stay on the pill up until the time I decided I was ready to have children. (I was 20 years old at the time.) Now this next part I remember verbatim. I asked her: “Will being on the pill that long have any adverse effects on my ability to become pregnant when I want to?” (See, I was worried about my fertility even back then.) Her answer: “Oh, no, on the contrary: being on the pill tricks your body into thinking it’s pregnant every month, so when you want to become pregnant and come off the pill, it should be very easy!”

I was sold. This stuff was the best thing on planet earth.

Back to school I went, and me and my boyfriend continued our physical relationship up until I was about to study abroad for a semester. Soon before I left, we discussed our plans for the future, and he said he wanted to take a break. A break?? I. FREAKED. OUT. What did he mean a BREAK?? We were going to get married, what in the world did he need a BREAK for?!?! Didn’t he realize what I had given to him??!! Inevitably, because I was not very agreeable when it came to the “break,’’ we ended up breaking it off for good instead. I was completely devastated. It was one of the lowest points of my life. It was as if I had just lost my husband, because, in a way, I had. I say that because I had given myself to him physically, in a way that I had always intended (and God had always intended for me) to give myself ONLY to my husband. I thought that if not in word, we were at least “physically married.” But now what were we? What would we ever be? Everything was, in an instant, completely upside-down and backwards. What I didn’t realize is that it had already started out backwards.

So then I left for Italy, and while on the plane from NYC to Venice, I sat right next to a very attractive guy with whom I would wind up spending the rest of my life. We hit it off immediately, exchanged phone numbers, and began talking on the phone frequently, in Italy. Eventually, he invited me to his roommate’s birthday party, and we officially began dating.

Now, in my mind, when I began dating my future husband, it was to be an Italian “fling” to help me get my ex out of my system. I still had a very unhealthy attachment to my ex that I just couldn’t shake, and looking back it makes perfect sense why I felt that way. Because sex, as beautiful and life-giving as it is, is only MEANT to be shared with one person, one spouse, one partner for life.

Surely you see where this is going.

Way too soon, and way too impetuously, I slept with my new boyfriend (and present husband). And it worked… almost. I felt a physical detachment from my ex right after that, but I was still very much in love with him. And this poor new guy I was dating, well, he was just the catalyst to help me heal what couldn’t really be healed.

I started to notice that my new boyfriend was quickly falling in love with me, but I did not, could not reciprocate the feelings. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Hadn’t I always told myself I would only sleep with ONE man, and now here I was sleeping with someone I didn’t even love?? What a fast and furious downward spiral my life had taken, and I hadn’t even had time to sit back and reflect on it.

Flash forward a couple years or so, when both of us were back in the States, still dating (long-distance), still sleeping together. He was a man I now loved. At a certain point my birth control pill prescription expired, so off I went to another doctor. I was never worried that I wouldn’t be able to get it refilled, in fact, the thought never crossed my mind. I pretty much just had to ask for it and it was mine. No exam, no blood-work, no other tests. So when one day the pharmacy charged me full price for them because my insurance didn’t cover it, I was up in arms. “What??? What do you mean? I’ve ALWAYS had it covered!!” The pharmacist didn’t know what to tell me, but finally asked, “Do you work for a Catholic organization?” “Yeah.” (I had just started working as a Kindergarten teacher in a Catholic school.) “Oh, that explains it. They don’t cover birth control.” I was livid. “But this is for a medical purpose, I’m not on it for birth control,” I practically yelled at the poor girl. But her hands were tied.

I refused to pay the full price for months on end, so I got one more month’s worth and prayed for the best. Over the past 3 years, there had been several months in between prescription refills when I didn’t take the pill, and we just used condoms. But I HATED condoms. Absolutely loathed them. I felt like there was a foreign thing in my body that did not belong there and was not supposed to be there, and it made me physically sick. I think about my reactions back then and see that I had the truth all along: I knew in my heart what human sexuality was all about, what sex was intended to be, but my being on the pill blurred that crystal clear vision to the point where I could not see the whole picture. There was a time when I never would have thought of using a barrier method. Now it was just a necessary Plan B.

A month later, we were engaged. We planned to become celibate once we were engaged and would wait until marriage to resume our sex life. (See what I mean? Warped indeed.) But when we got married and became intimate again, nothing was new, nothing was exciting. In fact, I remember for the first 6 months or longer feeling guilt every time we had sex. It was a feeling I just couldn’t shake – why NOW did I have this overwhelming guilt? Our marriage, while legitimate in the eyes of God, began on a rocky slope, and it felt like we had to constantly struggle to stay on our feet, specifically in regards to our sexuality. I felt like the bonding element of sex was not bonding us at all, and instead almost became a hurdle to our union.

And then came infertility. The biggest hurdle to our sex-life.

I don’t think any woman (or man for that matter) could say that infertility didn’t have some negative effects on their sex life. But in our case, it added a curveball to an already disrupted foundation. Over the past 5 years, we have worked through most of these issues, but I always wonder how much easier it would have been, and could have been, if I had made different decisions.

Being on the pill for 6 years wreaked havoc on my reproductive system. Syndromes and diseases like PCOS and endometriosis were exacerbated over those 6 years, and the pill masked them to give me the illusion of normalcy and perfect health. But the worst thing the pill did to me was wreak havoc on my sexuality. From the moment I got my first prescription, I knew I was safe “just in case,” and almost overnight my plans and goals shifted from long-term whole person well-being to short-term physical and emotional satisfaction.

I can’t change my past, though often I wish I could. All I can hope is that God continues to heal my soul and my marriage. And praise Him, every day I see it happening more and more.

And that’s my story.

Put Out into the Deep

“Duc in altum” are the words Jesus spoke one day after speaking to the crowds from Simon’s boat.  He encouraged the Apostle to “put out into the deep” for a catch (Lk 5:4).   Mine is the story of listening to that small voice that calls you to trust entirely on God and the plans he has for your life.

We were twelve years into our marriage.  We had three beautiful children (all spaced according to our plan).  After the third child was born, we felt the responsible thing to do was to have my husband get a vasectomy.  We had our “perfect” family.   We thought three kids was plenty to handle and to think of having more in this day and age would be crazy.  As Catholics, my husband and I were not well educated on the Church’s teaching regarding contraception.  We both felt it was not a big deal since we had after all been “open to children” in our marriage and were being responsible parents in caring for the gifts God had already blessed us with.

When we relocated from Baltimore, Maryland to Northern Virginia in 2004, our youngest had just turned two.  Our other two kids were 6 and 4 years old.  To say I was busy getting settled into new routines with the kids, the community, and feathering a new nest would be an understatement.  My plate was very full but I was enjoying the time home with my children.   However, despite my “perfect family,” I felt a deep restlessness in my soul.  Contentment within my marriage eluded me and I didn’t know why.   I was becoming a regular on-line reader and poster at the Catholic Answers forums.  I enjoyed and felt drawn to apologetics and learning to defend the Catholic Church’s teachings.   I asked a lot of questions and contributed to many discussions.  Time and time again I was amazed at how the Church had an answer to every objection!   When properly presented, the Church’s teachings proved not only biblical but very reasonable and sound.   As one of my favorite authors, Matthew Kelly, is fond of saying, “There is genius in Catholicism.”  Little did I know that God would use apologetics to open my heart to the beauty of Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

For more than a year I continued to read and immerse myself in the teachings of the Church.  During this time my husband and I had the chance to attend a talk at a parish not far from ours.  Scott Hahn was the speaker and I heard for the first time his exegesis of The Lamb’s Supper.  All the pieces of salvation history were beautifully put into place and I walked away having an even greater appreciation for the gift of faith and my love for the Catholic Church — ­­especially the Eucharist.  I also knew that my lack of understanding of the role that the Pope and the Magisterium play in handing down the authoritative teachings of Christ contributed to the way I thought about contraception/sterilization.   I knew that my conscience had not been formed properly growing up and for this I felt very sad.

My sadness practically turned to despair after I completed a six week course that was offered at my parish on Christopher West’s Introduction to the Theology of the Body.  About three weeks into the course, I felt like the Apostle Paul as the scales fell from my eyes and, for the first time in my life, I understood the beauty of the nuptial meaning of the body and how marriage so perfectly mirrors the selfless love of the Holy Trinity.   The total, free, faithful, and fruitful gift of self in marriage embodies the gift of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.   When properly understood in this context it is clear how contraception/sterilization disrupts God’s intended meaning of marriage.   For more on this I highly recommend reading Introduction to the Theology of the Body.

Realizing the mistake/sin of sterilization and how it was most likely affecting the lack of contentment that I was feeling within my marriage, I had a long talk with my husband.  I knew we had to repent of our sin and ask the Lord for forgiveness of our pride, selfishness, and lack of trust in God where our family was concerned (which is what contraception ultimately boils down to).  Fully aware that reversing the vasectomy was NOT required by the Church to be forgiven, I began reading how other couples who had gone through a vasectomy learned NFP and practiced it as though they were fertile.  The purpose of this was to instill a sense of sexual discipline where none had been before.  It also allowed the woman to become aware of the signs her body gives off during her monthly cycle.   Although I could see the merit in this, I felt like the Lord was calling me to “put out into the deep.”   I read a book titled Sterilization Reversal – A Generous Act of Love edited by John L. Long, which detailed the stories of couples who reversed their decision to sterilize their marriages.   As I read their stories I could feel my sense of despair change to a sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, my husband would be open to considering having his vasectomy reversed.   I prayed a lot at this time asking only that the Lord’s will be done.  I had this burning desire to restore what never should have been broken in my marriage.  I wanted to restore the fertility that my husband and I had taken for granted and had thrown away.   Knowing now what an integral part of marriage our fertility was designed to be, I longed to live out my vocation according to God’s plan and not my own.

To my glorious surprise, after much discernment and prayer, my husband agreed to have his vasectomy reversed.  We did our homework on the urologists who specialize in vasectomy reversals in this country.  This is a procedure that MUST be done by someone who specializes in this delicate surgery.  It was going to be expensive since our insurance would not cover the cost.  The waiting list was over five months long!  During this time we chose not to tell our extended family what we were planning on doing.  We knew that our decision would be met with bewilderment and that we would be called “crazy” for doing such a thing!   I can still hear my mother’s words ringing in my ears after my third child was born (and suffered terribly with colic): “You’d be crazy to have any more kids.”  Besides, there really was no point in sharing our decision unless of course we ended up becoming pregnant down the road.   Pregnancy wasn’t our goal.  Restoring my husband’s fertility was.

The reversal surgery was scheduled to take place in September of 2006.  It was also a month before I celebrated my 40th birthday.    I participated for the first time in St. Louis Marie de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary which was beginning in early November at a local parish.   This consecration helped me to better understand the role that Mary plays in dispensing our Lord’s graces as Mediatrix.  I grew very close to our Lady during this time since I felt I couldn’t confide in my own mother for wisdom, comfort, and support with all that was taking place in my marriage.  Mary’s “Fiat” became my daily prayer.  The consecration also allowed me to see how easily influenced I had been by the “trappings of the world” and the falsehoods of the father of lies where my marriage was concerned.  I was so attached to the things that the world offers that I slowly stopped trusting God.

About a month after the vasectomy reversal was complete (no complications, thank God), we renewed our marriage vows with our parish priest.  We felt this was fitting since we were celebrating our 12th year of marriage.  For twelve years we used contraception.  Now we were embarking on a new chapter of our marriage.  We had been reconciled to the Catholic Church.  We had restored my husband’s fertility and we were committed to living out the teachings of the Church.   Saying our vows at this time had so much more meaning for the both of us than on our wedding day.   I sent away for material on Natural Family Planning (NFP).  I read the book and started keeping track of my temperature each day.  To my surprise, it wasn’t as complicated as it seemed.  It was very empowering to understand my body’s cycle and get in tune with the different changes that take place each cycle.  I kept thinking “Why didn’t I learn this stuff BEFORE I got married?”  I wish an NFP class had been mandatory for my husband and me before we got married.  I struggled not so much with the mechanics of NFP but rather with the reasoning for using NFP.  I kept asking myself and my husband the question: “Do we have a just reason to avoid a pregnancy at this time?”  The selfish part of us came up with all the typical excuses why having another child wouldn’t be a good idea, but these reasons quickly dissolved under serious scrutiny.   Our age was an issue (my husband is two years older than I am).  I often thought of all the older women in the bible that God blessed with children despite their “advanced maternal age.”    At the end of the day, it came down to trusting God with this decision.  We surrendered our wills completely to God’s.

I’ve heard it said that you can never out-do God in generosity.  Whatever you give to God, He will multiply it one hundred fold.   Only a few weeks after having our marriage vows renewed, I found out we were expecting our fourth child. As a 40-year-old woman I knew that my pregnancy would be treated as “high risk” for advanced maternal age.   The world tells us that there is a certain age beyond which women should not be having children.  The world provides all the remedies to make sure that we keep those things from happening.  It felt liberating to turn down the volume on what the world was telling us and instead to “let go and let God.”  I often contemplated the Annunciation and Mary’s total trust in God for her life (even if she didn’t fully understand it at the time).   Contemplating Mary’s total surrender to God’s will and her dependency on His love for her helped me to humbly see our own cross of bringing another child into the family in proper perspective.

We gave birth to a healthy baby boy in July of 2007.  He is our constant reminder that nothing is impossible with God.   I believe God calls each one of us to realign our boats, put out into the deep, trust in His love and mercy so that He can show us the true beauty and genius of His eternal truths.

 Submitted from Virginia

 

Raised in a “Sunday Catholic” Home

I have been Catholic my whole life but never appreciated the depth and the beauty of my faith until eight years ago.

How is it possible to grow up with the Catholic faith and comfortably overlook certain Church teachings, most notably the one on contraception?  There may be some explanation from being raised in a “Sunday Catholic” home (Mass on Sunday and holy days, no other discussion of God or faith in between) along with being surrounded by many Catholics over the years who did not follow the teachings of the Church.  Perhaps it came partly from my experience over the years within the churches where I lived.  In some regions, the Catholic culture seemed to place the Catechism in the background and avoided controversial topics at the pulpit.  Yet, it would be most grievous to exclude my own contribution of convenient ignorance.  Even though I may not have had thorough teaching on the Church’s moral objection to contraception, I knew the Church was opposed to it and did not seek to understand why.  I simply chose to do what I wanted.

In my twenties, I married a man who was not Catholic.  Although we planned to raise our children in the Catholic faith and regularly attend Sunday Mass, we were neutral on the morality of contraception.  Both of us were completing education and training in our future careers and were far from the thought of having children.  And so, we chose to use contraception in the beginning of our married life.  As God is always the one who pursues us, He began to tug at our hearts and we began to desire having children.  We were blessed with this great gift, but even so, still disregarded the conflict in faith surrounding our use of contraception.

It was not until we began to hear from the pulpit the truths about contraception, that we became unsettled.  At first we were angry and defensive.  However, as we sought more knowledge through programs in our parish, we began to understand the beauty of the Church’s teaching on marriage and family.  We decided to live our married life with God as the center and to trust in the authority of His Church and her teachings.  Driven by this, eight years ago we learned, and still continue, the practice of natural family planning (NFP).   This change of heart strengthened our marriage, and we found a greater respect and appreciation for each other.  The sacrifices that are always required of spouses and parents became easier and a general peacefulness settled into our home.

Both of us still have much to learn about our Catholic faith (my husband completed RCIA many years ago), but we believe that our children will take with them what we now know and live. The strength and beauty of our Catholic faith comes from living it in its entirety.  This is what we have discovered and hope for our children.

 

A Challenging Adventure Every Day

Being committed to living out a true authentic Catholic marriage, by being open to life, has been one of the most challenging yet exciting adventures of my life.  Despite or perhaps due to the difficult trials in our marriage and the blessing, yet constant, challenge of having many children, I can honestly say that living a Catholic (or contraceptive-free) marriage has been more satisfying and fulfilling than I ever imagined it could be.  Never easy and still to this day extremely challenging, but always having the gift of a deep sense of peace from God.  This peace doesn’t necessarily come from anything I do but simply in experiencing His blessing and hand in our family as we have continued to abandon our “family planning” to Him.

Our culture convinces us that the Church’s teaching is extremely restrictive and prohibitive in its limits and rules.  It claims the Church is robbing us of our due pleasure, satisfaction and freedom.  When in reality, I have experienced the opposite in Catholic married life.  It has been precisely through the Church’s guidelines that I have experienced a true satisfaction, fulfillment and freedom in my marriage.  As my husband and I have lived this commitment (believe me, it has only been lived with the grace of God), struggling along the way, we have been forced to grow in patience, self-sacrifice and generosity towards one another.  Like a fine wine, this commitment has produced a deep intimacy and satisfaction in our marital relationship.  All the ways the culture claims to satisfy in this area have seemed to fall short of this lasting peace and intimacy I have experienced.

Ultimately, It is the sharing in this community of persons, according to the way that God designed, that has lead me closer to Christ in a way that can only be experienced in marriage.  It is a new, exciting and always challenging adventure every day.

Submitted from Virginia

One of those Big Catholic Families

I don’t know when it was that my family became one of those Big Catholic Families. I only remember realizing that other women might be looking at me the way I looked at those other mothers of Big Catholic Families, and could they see what a fraud I was? I am simply not like those other women, who all seem so prayerful, content, proud of their lives, really devout models of motherhood for all of us, right?

Then I realized, maybe they aren’t like that either. They seem like models of perfected motherhood, but maybe their kids drive them crazy, or maybe they try not to regret that they can’t do more in that career that they loved, or they also are frightened each time they find themselves pregnant again.

Several babies ago I was done, as we hear so many moms say. I was dealing with postpartum depression, a houseful of toddlers, family difficulties, and a vision of the future as years of the same chaos. I thought I made it clear to God that I had done more than my share in His procreation thing. But when He brought the next pregnancies – and as many miscarriages as deliveries – I understood that I might have been done, but God wasn’t, and I let Him take over for me. He got me through those struggles, even turning the struggles into joys, or at least helping me see the joy after the struggle.

My husband and I aren’t the best example of a modern understanding of the Church’s teaching on natural family planning, if you consider NFP a way to prevent pregnancies. But if you consider that the purpose of God’s plan for your body and your marriage is to share in His plan, and that NFP helps in that sharing, it has been a gift for me and my husband. We don’t do very well with sympto-thermal stuff, it’s true, but we’ve been forced to cling to each other through the struggles, finding joy in what we didn’t plan but God gave us anyway.

So I’m not one of those holy mothers of Big Catholic Families, because the mother who is constantly and consistently holy – well, there was only one, and her only child was God. I find comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one who actually has to work to reach peace in my life. I’ve had to struggle to accept God’s will and I continue to struggle to become closer to Him, just like every other woman out there. If we as women can look at each other and remember that we each have different challenges and choices, that this isn’t easy for anyone, no matter how easy it looks for some, maybe we can help each other more in our journeys to Christ.

Submitted from Virginia