Helping Myself To Some Leftovers

aisle-altar-arches-226345Rod Dreher, in his book The Benedict Option – A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, writes a short section on “Love and Support Unmarried People in the Community.”

Dreher correctly writes that the church can me a lonely place for singles.

While it’s correct and right for the Church to affirm marriage and family as the ideal forms of the Christian life, we singles sometimes get overlooked.

What about our witness? What about our lives? And what about those of us who haven’t discerned a call to marriage? It’s not wonder that our nickname is “the leftovers.”

Their status as singles that leaves clergy and parish staff scratching their heads a lot. Where can they “place” us besides babysitters and clean-up crew?

It’s normal to be confused by us because really, we confuse ourselves! We’re in our 20’s, 30’s and some of us are nearing our (gasp!) 40’s. More and more people are delaying marriage, more and more of our friends are co-habitating, and more and more of us are getting sucked into the online dating scene or possibly something worse out of desperation to be in a relationship.

We may be succumbing to the hook=-up culture. If you haven’t dated anyone in the past 5-10 years, the dating marketplace has dramatically changed. And if you haven’t dated in more than 20 years, I doubt you’ll recognize single-dom today. It’s messy. It’s strange. It’s sad. And it’s lonely.

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Of course, it’s not all bad news. There are still good men and women out there. I picture them all wandering…aimlessly searching for their equivalent. They want someone just to have a conversation with. It’s been a while since they’ve sat down and had an actual conversation face to face. They’re used to 1 dimensional screens. Some of them don’t know life without a smartphone, without the internet.

Most would love to meet someone organically. But lately, that seems to be harder and harder.

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As more and more people become secularized, and more and more people leave the Church, that whole, “Maybe you’ll meet someone at Church” seems to be falling away.

Where are the solid young people, the orthodox Christians and Catholics?

Besides the pews, because I promise you there are some of them there, many of them are hanging out at the Latin Masses, which is growing in popularity, at least in my diocese. A lot of the TLM’s take place in parishes that aren’t your typical Catholic parishes with Bingo and Daycare. It’s usually the larger cathedrals/older churches that still have a Low and a High mass and that’s attractive because it’s different. And for those young adults who desire authenticity, the traditional Latin mass is home to many young adults these days.

There’s also groups like your local Young Catholic Professionals chapter or simply those that attend a Theology on Tap event or Young Adult event. And they may not go just to meet a potential date; they go so they can meet other people, period. It’s an added bonus if they end up dating.

While it’s good to meet like-minded singles, it doesn’t always end up being the case. And it’s hard to meet people at mass when you’re in the pews trying to worship.

So gatherings of young adult singles doesn’t always have to revolve around religion, per se. Recreational/intramural sports leagues and going to the bars for trivia nights and just hanging out in casual social situations is usually enough to meet someone to engage in a conversation with.

But in the meantime, I appreciated Dreher’s advice for the parish community with regards to guiding and mentoring young singles:

All unmarried Christians are call to live celibately. And that can be incredibly difficult in today’s culture. So it wouldn’t be a bad idea, besides a Young Adult Ministry, to “consider establishing single-sex group houses for unmarried members to live in prayerful fellowship.” He goes on to point out that it’s difficult to live chastely in a culture “as eroticized as ours, especially when there is so little respect for chastity. One expects this from the world, but the church must be different.”

While setting up housing may not be an option for your local parish at the moment, there is something you can do, no matter what your state in life, to help with the “leftovers” – encouragement and mentorship.

I’m attempting to do something like this with a 4-week series with the Young Adult ministry at my parish called Dating and Discerning Marriage As A Catholic. We’ll be hearing testimonies from young married couples (some with kids, some without) about their dating experience, their marriage, how they pray as a couple, how they pray as a family, practicing chastity as they dated and now that they are married, the ups and downs of NFP, etc.

It’s going to be a very engaging series touching on subjects like interfaith dating, setting boundaries within friendships, how the heck to practice chastity in today’s world and how singleness bears fruit, despite it’s difficulties.

I’d love to report back on it after it’s over here so look for that in the fall.

In the meantime, pray for the young people who come to this series to have receptive hearts and minds as they hear from the couples as well as myself; that they learn something new and especially for those who have been single for a long time, who desire nothing more than to do God’s will and feel a painful ache to be married, but for whatever reason, haven’t met their future spouse.

Spend some time with your single friends when you get a chance. Ask them how life is going. Don’t pry into their dating life unless they begin that conversation. And don’t pity them. Pray for them and offer any insight you have with them on relationships and marriage. Don’t try to tell them that you know what it’s like, but DO try to share your own stories of struggle and success. Give them hope.

They are not leftovers. They are the future of the Church. And they need our support and our love.

 

Listening to Mama Church

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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!

Bound by Lust, Liberated by the Ethos of Redemption

I just found this passage recently from  Theology of the Body Explained – A Commentary on John Paul II’s Man and Woman He Created Them by Christopher West

The subject matter is Celibacy and Solitude:

Christopher West and Pope John Paull II talk about remaining in the “ache” of man’s original solitudethe “ache” to which the Lord himself refers when he said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen 2:18). The conscious choice to refrain from marriage “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” becomes a powerful testimony to the fact that God and God alone can ultimately fulfill that “ache” of solitude. Men and women who vow to a life of celibacy devote their yearning for communion directly toward God.

I look at the “ache” and I am deeply attracted to it. And I recently figured out why I am so attracted to it:

“For those whose hearts are bound by lust, the idea of choosing a life of total continence is absurd. But for those who are being liberated from lust by the ethos of redemption, the idea of sacrificing the genital expression of their sexuality “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” not only becomes a real possibility – it also becomes quite attractive, even desirable.

This was me – I was the one who was bound by lust. But I experienced that liberation from lust by the ethos of redemption and let me tell you, it was an amazing experience that I wish EVERYONE could encounter. Because I now recognize that my life has been dominated by lust, I am now extremely excited about living the rest of my life as a celibate. I am welcoming the “ache” with open arms.

I don’t expect anyone to really understand this except maybe for fellow…celibates? 🙂 But for those who are single by choice, those who know that being married and having children is not the path you have been put on, I would propose to you, fellow singles, this life of celibacy for the kingdom. This is NOT a person’s way of saying that “marriage is too hard” or “dating is so tiresome” so therefore, “I’m just going to be single and celibate forever.” No, this is not that at all. This is choosing to live for something greater. For me, I am choosing to go down this path because I feel God calling me to it. For others, they might feel God guiding them to marriage and children. For others they might feel the pull to religious life. I have never felt a desire or yearning to have a family of my own. This feeling has never faded over time and I have never changed my mind even as I enter my late 30’s. This is how I have always felt and now I can finally put a name to it. Now I finally know WHY I never felt the pull to the other vocations – My singleness IS my vocation.

There’s another nugget of wisdom from TOB:

“Celibacy is not only a matter of formation but of transformation.

The Holy Father recognizes that a proper examination of the way in which the celibate vocation is formed, or rather “transformed” in a person would require an extensive study beyond the scope of his analysis (see TOB 81:5)”

And this is why I cannot explain my feelings adequately. How someone becomes or chooses celibacy is so transformative, that a deeper explanation is needed.

I’m actually excited and thrilled to live out the rest of my life as a celibate. And I couldn’t possibly feel this way and this wouldn’t be happening at all if it weren’t for the grace I received after finally attending confession at the TOB retreat last month. After 15 years of living a lust-driven life, I finally have that weight lifted off my shoulders and now I can focus on living an authentic life. The life I was called to live, to be the person I was called to be.

Ahhh, the joy of freedom!

Bonus material: I came across this video from Jackie Francois about the Ache of Singlehood – Worth watching for those who are single AND married. Pretty sure she and I share the same brain. 🙂

 

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.

And the Spirit is Truth

1 John 5:1-6

Beloved:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God,
and everyone who loves the Father
loves also the one begotten by him.
In this way we know that we love the children of God
when we love God and obey his commandments.
For the love of God is this,
that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome,
for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.
Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ,
not by water alone, but by water and blood.
The Spirit is the one that testifies,
and the Spirit is truth.

I had the privilege of reading this passage from the first letter of Saint John yesterday at Divine Mercy Sunday mass. It stuck with me most of the day as I thought about these beautiful words. Each line is so important and so inspiring. You can reflect easily on just one sentence to take with you throughout your day.

One line in particular is interesting to me because I heard it spoken by Catholic Speaker Patty Schneier in her talk, “Prove it, God!…He did!” 

She laments over the line “And his commandments are not burdensome…” In fact, she did think that some of his commandments were burdensome and thus, struggled to find herself thinking otherwise. But after a few weeks of prayerful reflection every morning and encountering the book “Good News about Sex and Marriage” by Christopher West, she concluded that his commandments are not burdensome. (She was speaking specifically about the sin of contraception). She was just looking at them through a stubborn lens. After reading more about the Catholic Church and the Catechesis, she discovered a whole other world and changed her mind completely about particular commandments that she had found once to be “old fashioned” and “silly.” So when I read that line I pictured and heard Patty’s voice coming through and I was so glad she had changed her mind about this.

But the conclusion is also very poignant. “The Spirit is truth.”

Yes, the Spirit is the one that testifies, that speaks the truth. Jesus Christ is this truth. I think it’s easy to forget this in our secular life. We go searching for the truth when it’s been right in front of us all along. We might be stubborn, we might feel set in our ways, we might not want to know the truth. But there it is:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” John 14:6

Fit in Your Faith Today: What “truth” are you struggling to believe? What commandments do you find burdensome? How can you look at the commandments or seek the truth through a different “lens?”

Theology of the Body

Christopher West is one of the most recognized teacher of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

What is the Theology of the Body? Check out this explanation here.

In the meantime, here are some of what I refer to as “nuggets of wisdom” from his book “Theology of the Body for Beginners.”

(If you are interested in learning more about the Catholic teaching of marriage, the human body, sexuality, and love, I highly recommend picking up one of West’s books. They are life-changing.)

  • God gave us sexual desire as the fuel of a rocket that is meant to launch us into the stars & beyond. But what would happen if the engines became inverted, pointing us back only upon ourselves & no longer toward the stars? It would be a massive blast of self destruction.
  • 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.
  • When our desire to understand the body and sexuality is not met with the truth, we inevitably fall for the lies.
  • The difference between marriage and celibacy must NEVER be understood as the difference between having a “legitimate” outlet for sexual lust on one hand and repression on the other. No, Christ calls Everyone, no matter his or her particular vocation, to experience redemption from the domination of lust. Both vocations, celibacy and marriage, flow from the same experience of the redemption of sexual desire.
  • Celibacy and Marriage complement each other. Celibacy helps married couples realize that their love also is oriented toward “the kingdom.” Furthermore, by abstaining, celibates demonstrate the GREAT VALUE of sexual union.
  • Celibacy for the kingdom is meant to be a fruitful, living out of the redemption of sexual desire, understood as the desire to make oneself a “sincere gift” for others.
  • Purity does not reject the body, It is the glory of the human body before God. It lets us perceive the human body – ours and our neighbors – as a temple of the Holy Spirit, a manifestation of divine beauty.
  • Spousal love is the love of total self-donation. The power to express love, preciselyt that love in which the human person becomes a gift, fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence. If you’re looking for the meaning of life, it is impressed right in your body, in human sexuality.

Fit In Your Faith Today: Take just one of these statements and reflect on it. (It helps to have the context surrounding it from the book itself, which is why it’s highly recommended you purchase one of his books.) But in the meantime, ask yourself some of these thought provoking questions:

Do you think of your body as a gift from God, as a holy temple? Do you treat it as such?

Do you think of yourself as holy?

What is your definition of holiness?

Do you believe that God calls us all to a vocation of holiness? (He does, by the way.) 😉

Do you look at marriage as a sacrament? Do you regard marriage as a holy union?

What do you think of people who are celibate?

What words come to mind when you hear that word?

If you have any confusion or questions about what the Catholic faith says about sexuality, purpose of marriage and life, lust, love, union, relationships, etc., I can guarantee this book explains A LOT. You cannot possibly NOT grow in your faith after researching and reading Theology of the Body.