Listening to Mama Church

familypic

In granting married persons the privilege and great responsibility of becoming parents, God gives them the grace to carry out their mission adequately. As spouses, parents and ministers of the sacramental grace of marriage, they are sustained from day to day by special spiritual energies, received from Jesus Christ who loves and nurtures his Bride, the Church.  —The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, Guidelines for Education Within The Family

Most people that know me are aware I have a lot of time on my hands.(Not too surprising considering that I’m single and childless). But what many are NOT aware of is in the past year and a half, I’ve basically gone “all in” with my Catholic faith; reading and researching and attending webinars and seminars and conferences and retreats. And among the many things I have uncovered, is that there’s more that the Church has gotten RIGHT than most people realize. And one of those is Her teaching on sexuality. 

Since most people are totally unaware of this (The Church and SEX don’t exactly appear in the same sentence very often), I figured I’d give out some resources that parents can use to not only educate themselves, but their kids as well.

Mama Church Knows Best

“No good parent accepts and endorses everything their child chooses.”

We view the Church as our Mother. And like any good Mom, she wants what is best for us.

If you’re scratching your head in disbelief, allow me to explain.

Let’s take the example of a child running into the street without looking. If you see your child starting to run into oncoming traffic, are you going to say “Well, I can’t judge them for doing that. If they feel like running into the street, that’s their right. I can’t stop them.”  Of course not!! You’ll run to save them. You’ll tell them to stop running so they don’t hurt themselves! Because you love them.

If you see your child start to take drugs, will you just sit by and say, “Well, that’s their choice. I mean, they might end up hurting themselves in the long run but I can’t stop them. If they feel it’s right for them…” Clearly you wouldn’t. You would try to stop them and tell them that there are consequences for their actions and that doing drugs is wrong and unhealthy and harmful. And since you love them, you get them help so they can thrive and stay alive.

This is how the Catholic Church sees us – as children in need of guidance. One of the best examples of this is seen in the document entitled Humanae Vitae. This document (HV for short) explains the Church’s stance on contraception (a big no-no). But WHY was Pope Paul VI (the Pope at the time this was written) so down on the pill? Well, just read it to find out.  It’s easy to understand, I promise!

For one thing, the Pope predicted that the legalization and widespread access of contraception in partnership with the sexual revolution would lead to: single parent families, fatherless children, increased divorce, unplanned pregnancies, and increased abortions. In other words, a culture of death.

Gee…you think he may have been right on that?

What makes this document so controversial for some of us in the Catholic world is that the teachings are difficult to implement. Because, as we know, it’s not easy to be a Christian, especially today.

So maybe before you start to talk to your kids about sex and God’s design for our bodies and marriage, perhaps you need a re-fresher? Reading HV is a great start. But wait, there’s more!

Educate yourself:

  • One good first step is to get yourself a copy of the Catechism. It’s easy to read, although it’s very thick. But it’s divided up into sections so you can jump around. One of the best tips I received recently was from Dr. Bob Rice at Franciscan University at Steubenville. He says to start reading the In Brief sections and praying with those before actually reading it from cover to cover. I am finding that to be really helpful.
  • If you’ve followed my blog you know I’m a Theology of the Body enthusiast/addict/obsessed person. Besides listing everything in my Recommended Reading tab, I would say the best book for married couples and parents is The Good News about Sex and Marriage by Christopher West. It’s format is Q&A so you can jump around to the sections you want to read. It addresses infertility, contraception, celibacy, natural family planning and much more. Best of all, it addresses the beauty and truth about what marriage means between a man and a woman.
  • Hate reading?  If you prefer videos, you’re going to want to subscribe to both Fr. Mike Schmitz and Bishop Robert Barron. Bishop Barron is especially popular for his YouTube videos explaining everything from Advent to War. You can find his homilies, videos, and blog posts at Word on Fire. Here’s what you get when you search “Sexuality.”
  • As for Fr. Mike Schmitz, he’s considered more “real-world” and is a big hit with the teens and young adults. His videos can be found on Ascension Presents YouTube channel. Here is his video on the Transgender question which was probably one of the most popular.

Educate Your Kids:

I’m sure there’s plenty of parenting styles that someone is going to use to discuss the uncomfortable topics (pornography, masturbation, premarital sex, cohabitation, etc) and maybe you have already covered all of these topics with your kid. But I would definitely suggest none of these are “One and Done” subjects. I think it needs to be an ongoing dialogue as they grow up.

One great resource I found recently is this document from the Pontifical Council for the Family from entitled “The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality written in 1995.

This won’t tell you exactly what to say and how to say it, but hey, it’s a start! I would especially encourage parents to keep these things in mind:

  1. The information you present should be appropriate to the child’s developmental phases.

  2. The media violates these stages of development. Don’t allow the media to tell your child what is moral/immoral.

  3. Present chastity and virginity in a positive light (because it is!) and that’s contrary to what kids, especially teens, hear from their peers/media.

  4. It doesn’t matter what *you* did in the past. You can be vulnerable in front of your children but don’t think just because perhaps you fell into temptation, that you have “no right” to tell your kids how to be chaste. Don’t fall into the moral relativism trap.

  5. Everyone can be chaste, because we are all called to holiness.

  6. Not everyone is called to marriage. Be supportive in the discernment process for your children, especially if they seem drawn to the celibate/religious life as they become teenagers and young adults.

Another great (and shorter) resource comes from Focus on the Family. This PDF is free and downloadable after you enter in some basic information. This is probably most helpful for parents who have children who go to a public school but children who are at private schools can benefit as well: Empowering Parents Amidst Confusion on Sexuality

Lastly, the best one-stop-shop for teens and parents is the Chastity Project. You can search their resources for all kinds of answers to your questions regarding sexuality and what is in line with Catholic doctrine. Many of their blog posts are from teens and young adults struggling with everything from peer pressure to same-sex attraction to discerning consecrated life. Visit it often for all your questions and concerns about the confusing culture we are living in today.


There are countless other resources, books, talks, commentaries, etc. on how to raise your kids and discuss sexuality in a positive way that I cannot possibly list them all. My main point here was to emphasize that we can’t rely solely on the schools, teachers, catechists, priests, or youth ministers to “take care of it” for you. Parents NEED to be open about these things, especially with the conflicting and confusing messages kids see in the news, on social media, on the cover of magazines, from pop culture, and from their peers. Remember to teach the truth in love and to make sure your child knows they can come to you if they have questions. Be not afraid!

The Body is a Sign of the Divine Mystery

If you’re just joining us, be sure to read my last post to get “caught up.”

“You are made in the image and likeness of God.”

This statement was implanted firmly in my brain starting in Freshman Religion class. I remember thinking “I know this is true, but I’m still not quite sure what it means.”

I don’t think my 14 year old brain could process it. And this is probably true of a lot of teenagers.

I knew my life was a gift from God, but I also remember thinking, “But what does God have to do with my parents conceiving me?” In other words, what do Sex and God have in common? I literally had no idea the two were connected, as strange as that sounds to me 23 years later.

Now, after reading TOB, something finally clicked.

Human nature is both spiritual and physical. We aren’t spirits “trapped” in our bodies. The Church has always maintained that we are embodied spirits, or spiritualized bodies. Through the profound union of body and soul in each of us, our bodies reveal or “make visible” the invisible reality of our spirits. But it does even more. Because we are made in God’s image, our bodies also make visible something of God’s invisible mystery.  TOB For Beginners

God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange. CCC 221

And here’s where this all comes together –

God created us male and female so that we could image his love by becoming a sincere to gift to each other. This sincere giving establishes a “communion of persons” not only between the sexes but also-in the normal course of events- with a “third” who proceeds from them both. In this way, sexual love becomes an icon or earthly image in some sense of the inner life of the Trinity. TOB for Beginners

Whoa.

Have you ever heard anyone describe sex like this? Yeah. Pretty awesome right? It gets better.

As St. Paul says, quoting from Genesis, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).

This passage from Ephesians 5 is a key text- perhaps the key text- for understanding the body and sexuality “theologically.” Christ is the one who was sent by his Father in heaven. He also left the home of his mother on earth. Why? To give up his body for his Bride (the Church) so that we might become “one flesh” with him. Where do we unite sacramentally with Christ? In a most profound way in the Eucharist. TOB for Beginners

Confused? Don’t be! It’s simple really.

When all the confusions are cleared and the distortions are untwisted, the deepest meaning of human sexuality – of our creation as male and female and our call to communion – is “eucharist.” John Paul II describes the Eucharist as “the sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride.” God created us male and female right from the beginning to live in a “holy communion” that foreshadows the Holy Communion of Christ and the Church. In turn, the gift of Christ’s body to his Bride (celebrated in the Eucharist) sheds definitive light on the meaning of man and woman’s communion.

The Spousal Analogy

The Bible begins with the marriage of the first man and woman and it ends in Revelation with another “marriage” – the marriage of Christ and the Church.

And here is what we learn from the Pope’s Theology of the Body: God wanted this eternal “marital plan” to be so plain to us – so obvious to us – that he impressed an image of it in our very being by creating us male and female and calling us to become “one flesh.” TOB For Beginners

So two things to take away from this:

1. God is a communion of love

2. We are destined to share in that exchange (God wants to “marry” us – Hosea 2:19)

There is so much more to be discussed here but it is my hope, my dear readers, that you now have an idea of what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God. I understand it’s a difficult idea to wrap your head around, and one that is never going to be understood completely due to our limited brain power, but that’s why it’s called the “mystery.”

Fitting in My Faith: I look at Eucharist differently now that I have read TOB. Now I understand why it’s a sacrament. Now I understand why marriage is a sacrament. Now I know why the Church takes it seriously, and now I appreciate it even more when I hear the words, “This is my body, given up for you.”

I also appreciate life, my own life and the lives of others, much more greatly. I don’t think of how we are created as just “sex between two people who love each other.” And 9 months later, life. It’s much more than that. It’s a sacred union. It’s not gross or disgusting or bad. It’s awesome and it’s miraculous and it’s a small, tiny, itty bitty taste of what heaven is going to be like. No, we won’t be having sex in heaven, 🙂 We’ll BE in heaven, we’ll be in UNION with God! We’ll be married to Him!

This is the purpose of sexual union in the divine plan: to prefigure in some way the glory, ecstasy, and bliss that awaits us in heaven TOB For Beginners

I don’t know about you, but understanding why we were created, makes me have greater faith of the heaven that awaits us all.

to be continued….

-Michelle

“In the beginning, it was not so.”

The body expresses the person. We have to go back to the beginning, before sin distorted things. That is the standard. That is the norm. The Pope proposes an “echo” of the beginning exists within each of us. TOB for Beginners

John Paul maintains that, despite sin, an “echo” of God’s original plan remains deep within every human heart. In his TOB, the Pope aims to help people peel away the layers of debris that cover the true desires of their hearts so that this “echo” can resound. The more it does, the more our subjective experience harmonizes with objective reality. The more that echo resounds, the more we can read the “language of the body” and the desires of our hearts “in truth.” People who come to understand the Pope’s TOB cannot help but recognize the inner movements of their own hearts being laid bare. It rings true. “I can identify with this,” they respond. “I experience life this way. This is what I desire. TOB Explained


For as long as I can remember, I have always felt like I was trying to play catch-up.

What do I mean by that? I mean that feeling you get when someone tells a joke and everyone laughs but you don’t get it but you’re too shy to say anything. That feeling of everyone raising their hand in class because the answer is easy and simple but you don’t raise your hand because you have no clue what’s being taught. That feeling of seeing your friends and people your age getting married and having kids and you haven’t even had a serious boyfriend yet.

Part of this, looking back, was due to my age. Maybe I should have been held back in school by a year. I was one of the “young ones.” Do you remember the kids in your class that were JUST celebrating their birthdays when you started a new grade? I was one of those, being a September baby.

This feeling never really left me. Up until recently, I still felt like I was behind the times. Slow to catch on. Not getting the joke. Appearing perplexed and confused when everyone else has taken the test and handed it in and I’m still stuck on question number 3.

Finally, after almost 37 years, I feel like I know something no one else does and I feel like I just skipped to the head of the class. I feel like I just solved every single question to every problem I have ever had in my entire life and I can’t tell anyone.  Not because I don’t want to share this news, but because I have no earthly idea HOW.  But over the next few week, months, years(!?!)  I will attempt to uncover this through this blog.

“Echo! Echo! Echo!”

What were the events leading up to this “discovery?” I would say the retreat at TOB Institute was the Main Event. But reading Theology of the Body for Beginners was the dress rehearsal. It was in this book that I finally was able to answer questions I have had in my mind since I was young, especially concerning sexuality, marriage, love, the existence of God, pretty much every question every person has but might be too fearful to vocalize it.

I just took two quotes from TOB and put them up there at the top of this page to help explain a little bit of this “discovery” and perhaps you, reader, have felt this too.

Disclaimer: In case it’s not obvious, I am no theologian. I am no best selling author. So this explanation will pale in comparison to the real deal, the actual Theology of the Body written by Pope John Paul II. If you want to “skip ahead” yourself, I encourage you to read one of Christopher West’s books. They will change your life.

Pope JP2 refers to an “echo” that we all have in our hearts. I think of this as a feeling of wanting to do the right thing, a feeling of love, a feeling of enormous longing. A feeling of “there has to be more than this.” And “I know that this is NOT what my life is supposed to look like. I know there is something more. I can feel it.”

This line that I underlined describes perfectly the feelings I had while reading TOB and continue to have now: People who come to understand the Pope’s TOB cannot help but recognize the inner movements of their own hearts being laid bare. It rings true. “I can identify with this,” they respond. “I experience life this way. This is what I desire.

In short, one can observe that the TOB seeks to answer two of the most fundamental human questions: What does it mean to be human? and How do I live in a way that will bring true happiness? TOB Explained page 74

I know what you’re thinking – Geez, this is some pretty serious stuff you’re saying here. I’m not sure I can handle all this theology! And you’re right, it is serious. But, I believe in my heart, that this teaching, this catechesis on the body by JP2, is what will save lives. It certainly saved mine.

To be continued….

-Michelle

What I’m Currently Reading:

Losing my religion for equality

From Rene Descartes to Caitlyn Jenner

The Body God Gave Us Doesn’t Lie

Chivalry Is Making a Comeback

Love, Tolerance, and the Making of Distinctions

 

Theology of the Body – Where Do I Begin?

I attended a retreat put on by Theology of the Body Institute called TOB1 – Head & Heart Immersion Course this week. It was located in Quarrysville Pennsylvania. But it might as well have been heaven. Because I seriously feel like that’s where I was. Not because of the location itself, although Black Rock Retreat Center is amazing and peaceful. But because of the material that was taught and the experience I had was definitely not of this world.

I think I lost about 2 pounds in tears. These were tears of redemption and joy, tears of sadness and mercy, tears of grace.

It was a literal transformation in my mind and in my heart. It’s very difficult to articulate. Especially when people are asking me, “So how was your retreat?”

The best I can do is what Christopher West, the author of various books on TOB and the leader of this course, suggested to all of us 120 students:  “What is Theology of the Body in 5 words?”

“God wants to marry us.”

Unfortunately, this explanation doesn’t suffice. It just gives you a small taste of what the message of TOB is.

“What does it mean God wants to marry us?”

“Is this about heaven?”

“Is this about death?”

“Is this about sex?”

I would say a resounding YES to all of those questions and more.

But I suppose to explain how I discovered TOB, I would have to start at the beginning. But even if I start at the beginning, it would take a book to write it all down. The good part is that I plan to write a book about this. But since that might take more than a year, and I want to get it all out, I plan on blogging about my journey to TOB here. Just as I documented my “Journey to the Stage” in my first figure competition, I plan to blog about my TOB journey as well on this site.

Both of these transformations are ongoing. However, this was the transformation of my heart which has made me see life through new lenses. It’s amazing and wonderful and scary and agonizing. All at the same time. I plan on revealing quite a bit about myself because, you see, for whoever reads this, has to know how this has changed me. And in order to know how it’s changed me you have to know me. As much as you could possibly know about me through my experiences, my childhood, my adulthood, my friendships, my relationships, my family, my everything.

I suppose my goal with these posts will be to introduce TOB to the reader in the hopes that they themselves pick up one of the books and begin to read them and become part of the TOB family.

When I started blogging about my fitness journey, I got a ton of messages from strangers, friends, family and fellow trainers that said I inspired them to workout more, or eat better, or run a 5K, etc. If I start blogging about my TOB life, it’s entirely possible someone could be inspired by my words and have the same life changing experience as myself.

Helping our Unbelief

Mark 9:20-24 Jesus Heals a Boy Possessed by an Impure Spirit

When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered.  “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”


This passage from the gospel of Mark can easily be applied to us today. Why, although we believe in God, do we struggle to have faith when faced with the daily difficulties of life?

It seems easy and natural to have faith when things are going great in our lives.

Got a promotion at work – “Thank you God!”

Kids came home with a stellar report card – “Our prayers were answered!”

Avoided an accident on the roads – “God must have been watching over me!”

But it’s when things don’t go so well that we start to lose faith in God, right?

Can’t find a job after months of searching and praying about it – “I can’t believe God is letting this happen!”

Another school shooting in the news –  “Why doesn’t God stop this?”

Sudden death of a friend or family member – “Where are you God?”

But it’s at these crucial times of our lives that we need our belief to be restored and delve even deeper into our faith. It’s so much more than just believing in God. It’s believing in what the Bible says, as His inspired Word. It’s also learning from the people in the Bible. Many of us focus on just the Gospels but we can learn alot from the other books, especially the Old Testament.

Think of people like Abraham and Moses and David and Job. They had their own trust issues with God, too. Just because they lived in a completely different age as us, they weren’t that much different than we are. They prayed to God. They argued with him. They went against his wishes sometimes. They weren’t sure of His plan for them.

What can you do to help your unbelief during tough times?

  • Strength in numbers: Ever notice that when society tells us to just “give up” and “There is no God,” and call us names for believing in an all-powerful God, there’s a huge surge in Christians right there proclaiming the Good News? It’s almost like they wait for a disaster to make their faces known. 🙂 Draw yourself near to them. Hang out with them. Talk to them. You will find there are more people who feel the same way you do (and struggle with their faith just like you too).
  • What’s the Lesson? As much as it may seem that problems keep piling up, search for the silver lining.  What can you learn from all this negativity? What can be done right now to help get things right again? You’ll find the answer is usually something in line with “Keep the Faith.” There’s always a reason that something didn’t work out the way you thought it would. You have to believe, as difficult as it may be, that there was a reason.
  • Listen to Him, not him: In other words, listen to God’s voice, not the voice of society that says to do something different. The other voice might be louder.  Listen to His voice. In order to hear it, you have to be quiet. And you have to be patient. Two characteristics that are very challenging, but necessary to keep the faith.
  • Look for the Good: Even in a sea of evil, there is always good. They say, whoever THEY are, that Good Triumphs Evil. And it’s true! Except Good doesn’t make the headlines. It’s usually the bad stuff. But do you ever notice, for instance, when a natural disaster occurs, people from all over get together to help? Items get donated, experts fly in to help with search and rescue, money is sent to help rebuild destroyed cities. And when something terrible happens in a town (small or large) complete strangers start asking “How can I help?” That’s faith. Some might say that’s just faith in humanity, and not necessarily God. But who created those people? Who created those helpers?

Fit in Your Faith Today: When challenged with difficult circumstances, do you find yourself struggling to believe? Take some of the steps listed above to restore it. Reignite the fire in your heart when it’s struggling to stay lit.  Open your Bible and picture the words being said directly to you. Because He is speaking directly to you. The question is, are you listening?