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!

The Gift of Chastity Talks and Teens

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I had the awesome honor to give a chastity talk to a bunch of teens the other day.

It was very well received and sparked some really good conversation after it was over.

If there’s a parent out there that has no idea how to start the conversation with their own teenager, my chastity talk could be a good “starter” to get the talk going. Or at least it could serve as an outline or template, if you will.

Another great resource is ChastityProject.com. Tons of great books and DVD’s and CD’s and free stuff too. Their blog is one of the best out there as well.

Also, even if you’re not a teen or not a parent, you could probably learn a thing or two from this talk. Honestly, not too many people know Theology of the Body and were never told about the beauty of God’s design of our bodies and sexuality. So give it a read and I would be willing to bet you’ll learn something new.

*There’s a lot I didn’t type out here that I shared with the kids that made this talk part “witness” talk and part Catholic teaching. I went off script plenty of times which made it much more lively and interesting.


I was raised Catholic and went through 12 years of Catholic school but was never told and never knew the beauty of Gods design for sex and marriage. I never knew the WHY behind the reason sex is saved for marriage. In fact I just learned TOB last spring. And when I learned how God designed our bodies and how sex is this sacred and holy union, I was floored. And, the beautiful part was that I was also healed from my own wounds that I suffered from due to my misunderstanding of our faith and Catholic doctrine. That’s a whole other story for another time, but I hope this gives you a bit of an idea as to why I’m so passionate about this subject and why I was so eager to talk to you today.

Okay, let’s start with one little fun fact: The first chapter in the Catechism of the Catholic Church actually begins with the phrase The Desire for God. Many people don’t even know what the Catechism is let alone that it starts with these words. So besides a Bible, please harass your parents to get a copy of the Catechism for the whole family.

So this is where we need to start our discussion on sexuality and marriage – with the word Desire.

Why? Because once we understand the difference between our desire for God and our desire for earthly or worldly things, can we then figure out what role our desires play in our lives, especially when it comes to sexual desires.

“The desire for God is written in the human heart.” That’s what is written in the first chapter of the Catechism. It goes on to say “because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.”

So to put that in simple terms –  we have this desire to be in communion with God, with the one who created us!

But unfortunately what may happen to us as we get older and grow up, is that we may not understand this DESIRE for God and we may end up rejecting God. Maybe either through sin or listening to the “outside” world and losing our faith perhaps along the way. Or maybe alot of us just end up giving in to sin so much that we don’t believe God will forgive us, so we hide from Him by avoiding mass and avoiding the sacrament of reconciliation and never talk about it.

One thing we never talk about are our sexual sins. Probably because they tend to make us feel ashamed or embarrassed and we don’t feel like we can talk to anyone on earth about how to overcome this, especially our parents right? Possibly the last place we want to go is to confession and talk to a priest about it too. So we find ourselves kind of lost,unsure of who to turn to or where to go. This happens quite a bit, even to practicing Catholics. This is why we must never forget our ultimate desire: To get to heaven to be with the One who created us.

 

We are all called to holiness, which is something I never learned or even believed at your age. In fact I didn’t believe that we are all called to holiness until recently! But trust me, God doesn’t tell us that we are destined to live in sin all our lives.

God represents to us what is Good, what is True and Beautiful.  We’ll get more into this in a minute. But first, I want to touch on the creation story for just a second so bear with me.

If we go back to the story of creation in Genesis, God made everything and declared it was “very good.” If there’s one thing you remember from the Creation story please remember that God looked at everything he made and declared it very good.  Everything – including US! Humans! And that includes our sexuality. Our sexuality is not BAD. It is very good.

But original sin distorts this concept, this thought that everything is good. Sin makes it really difficult to see what is good, or to choose what is good true and beautiful and we end up “missing the mark.”

Today, especially as a teenager, one of the biggest areas where we give in to temptation and where sin twists our desires for what is good and true and beautiful is our sexuality.

We tend to think we have just two options when it comes to our desires, especially those of a sexual nature: The first is to suppress: “This is bad that I’m having these lustful thoughts, therefore I am a bad person.” So we think we have to suppress these thoughts, pretending they don’t exist. OR the second option: what’s worse, is the opposite can happen and we don’t see them as bad, we see them as “no big deal,” or “everyone else is doing this,” and therefore we can easily fall into sinful ways without much of a second thought by ACTING on our desires.

 

But I’d say one of the more popular roads we take is we know, in our hearts, we were created for good. We all WANT to be holy people. We just don’t know how! We don’t know how to re-direct our desires for what is good true and holy.  Luckily, The Church actually gives us guidelines on how to do this- They’re called the 10 Commandments; maybe you’ve heard of them. But more than the 10 Commandments, we have Jesus who is our example of how to LOVE, not lust.

How do we “fight” sin and how do we “fight” lust? Well the answer isn’t very popular with our culture today – the answer is through purity. We have to grow in purity – When we grow in purity we see the truth about ourselves and others, we treat others with dignity and respect. Purity orders our passions and re-directs our desires for love and intimacy back to LOVE Himself – God.

 

HOW we do this is the challenging part. But we can pray for purity. And seriously, I never ever thought to pray for purity until recently. I never thought to pray for God to purify my thoughts and my words and my actions. Sexual wounds cut us deeply. When we are hurt sexually either through abuse, or giving away our virginity to someone prior to getting married, and giving in to temptation, or someone using us for sex and treating us like an object –  whatever the case may be: those wounds hurt us so badly and it can take a long time to heal, especially if we never address them.

But the great news is that we can pray to God about it. We can go to Adoration, we can kneel in front of the cross and ask Jesus for help. Because He understands our pain. The man understands pain. He WANTS us to go to Him because He is the Truth. When we develop a relationship with Him, it makes it much easier to grow in holiness.  So pray to him to purify your thoughts. He answers them.

In the beginning I mentioned God created us and said all that he created was very good. This means our bodies are good. Our sexuality is good. But do we really believe that? As a Personal Trainer I come across people all the time who don’t view their bodies as good. Some of them really hate their bodies and the way they look. But our bodies are GIFTS!

Think about it – how are we all here walking around and talking to each other right now? We are alive because of the sexual union that our parents engaged in. We don’t have to sit here and think about the image of our parents conceiving us. But the point is: God created us and therefore he created sex. Sex is also “very good.”

The secular world actually says the same thing, that sex is GOOD. But their version of good and ours is different. Today, our modern culture reduces and lowers sex to just an act. They say sex is good as long as it’s consensual, meaning two people want to have sex, let them. “Not married? No big deal. Not dating? Fine! Same gender? That’s okay too!” That’s not what we believe as Christians. These scenarios make a mockery of our faith and our belief of how God created us as male and female.

 

You know what else is misunderstood and twisted in our culture is LOVE. The term love is thought of as a feeling usually described with happiness and bliss and excitement. But the Church teaches us that love is so much more. God is Love. It’s not only a good feeling, it’s also a choice to make a gift of self to your beloved.

Our culture tends to think sex EQUALS Love. In other words, people say “If you love me you’ll have sex with me.” “If you love me you’ll sleep with me, etc.” But that’s not a sign of love at all. That’s a threat.

Love is sacrificial. Love means to will the good of the other – meaning you do what is best for your beloved. So no, it’s not a sign of love to threaten your partner to say “If you love me you’ll sleep with me.” The opposite would be true – To ABSTAIN from sex until marriage is a sign that someone loves you. Why? Because, for one thing, they understand you’re trying to be holy and get to heaven and they want to get their too! Abstaining from sex and practicing chastity is difficult and a sacrifice – but LOVE is sacrificial! Practicing Chastity is just another way to express love for someone. It means you know that staying pure and holy is more important than your own or your partners satisfaction.

On that note, let’s get into marriage and what the Church teaches us about what this couple promises to one another. Why IS marriage such a big deal? Why SHOULD sex be considered sacred and reserved for married people only? Well for one thing Marriage is a Sacrament, which I’m sure you all know.

The couple make certain promises or VOWS to one another. They are called to put the needs of each other ahead of their own. Again, just as we talked about a second ago – Love between spouses is also SACRIFICIAL.

Jesus on the cross is the ultimate example of love because He sacrificed and gave his very life for us so that we may live. And that’s how spouses are to love each other – they are to mirror Christ’s love for each other.

So they promise to love each other in the ways that Jesus loved us – Freely, Totally, Faithfully and Fruitfully. So this is the main point of my talk today – these 4 ways in which we love our spouses.

Freely – The couple that’s getting married choose, from their own will, to love each other. They aren’t forced into this marriage nor are pressured to love each other.

Total – They give all of themselves. Not just part of themselves, all of it. They hold nothing back. So in other words, they don’t say “Honey I love you with 65% of myself. The rest of me I dedicate to loving football or shopping or my job etc.” No they are in this 100%.

Faithful – they love each other exclusively until parted by death.

Fruitful -And this is a big one – Their marriage and relationship is life giving. This means they are open to giving life to children.

So when the couples says yes to these promises, this love allows the couple to know God’s perfect love more completely and their mutual love of each other as husband and wife is a witness to the world of God’s love.

The most profound way that the words of the wedding vows are realized is through the sexual union of the married couple. Every time they have sex, and this is something many young people today who are not married don’t realize – but this is another reason we say you have to wait until marriage to have sex – the couple is in a sense renewing their wedding vows!!

The married couple speaks with the language of their bodies when they have sex, “I choose to love you and only you, with all of me, for the rest of my life and I am open to our love creating a new life.” Pretty romantic right? I think so. If the sexual act is missing one of those promises of faithful, total, fruitful and free, it’s considered a distortion of love. And that’s what we are going to end this talk with – The Distortions of Sexuality and Love or the Counterfeits is another way of putting it.

Alright so now it’s time to talk about sexual sins – And how they don’t reflect this image of what is good true and beautiful and how they don’t reflect this self-giving love at all.

But before we get into this, if you’re ever talking about sin with anyone – I’m sure this isn’t dinner table or cafeteria table conversation – but trust me when I say these discussions will come up at some point in your life – we always have to be aware of mentioning God’s mercy. Always remember this: There is no sin too great for God’s mercy. This is why we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I avoided confession for over 23 years. I’ve known adults older than me that avoided it for much longer. The pain they are walking around with is heartbreaking. They never, and i include myself in there, we never knew believed God could forgive us for our sins. So we need to always remember, no sin is too great for his mercy.

Also, I just want to mention that I personally have struggled with everything I am about to discuss. And if you have questions or just want to talk about any of these things, I am available to chat anytime.

So right off the bat let’s start with the biggie – fornication – pre-marital sex. Fornication includes any sexual activity outside of marriage. So we all know that the Church teaches we can’t have sex before marriage. This is because every sexual act, as I just mentioned, as designed by God is called to be free total faithful and fruitful. If an unmarried couple has sex, it lacks a requirement of self-giving love and becomes distorted.

One by one let’s go over the 4 requirements to see how premarital sex measures up:

Is it free? Yes, okay it’s free if both people agree to it without any outside pressure

Is it total? No, you’re withholding the promise to stay faithful.

Is it faithful? No because the commitment is not until death do us part.

Is it open to life? This depends but chances are if you’re not married you’re using contraception.

So when we engage in sex before marriage this sends a message of: Well, I like you enough to have sex with you but I’m not ready to commit to you. I just want to use you and I am ok with being used by you in the process.

This is the mantra or slogan, if you will, of the hook-up culture. We all know what the hook up culture is? It’s this way of living that tells the lie, the counterfeit, that If we just hook up sexually with each other with no discussion of commitment and no strings attached, we’ll be happy with this. We use each other for self-gratification and we are free to leave one another for someone else when we get bored or want someone else. Not a good message. Complete distortion of the beauty of the sexual union between a man and woman in marriage.

Secondly, one of more challenging things that will most likely come up as you get older – Cohabitation. Living together before you’re married definitely SEEMS and LOOKS like not a big deal. But let’s look at our 4 requirement and see where it stands:

Is it free? Is it a free choice to live together? Sometimes yes sometimes no. Some people say they live together to save money before they get married. Maybe they do it because they are feeling pressure from each other or society or who knows?

Is it total? No. It’s often considered a test period. What an awful thought, by the way. We are not cars! We are not objects to be taken for a “test drive” before we make a commitment! Moving in together is like asking “Do I love you enough to live with and be burdened by your flaws?” It is not a total acceptance of the other. It is not a total gift of self.

Is it faithful? No. There is no commitment of til death do us part. One person can leave any time.

Is it open to life? Probably not, especially because the couple is not attempting to build a home together, remain faithful or give and receive each other completely and they are most likely contracepting.
Lastly, pornography and masturbation – I think it’s pretty obvious why the Church says this wrong. But I think this problem is probably much more serious today in the sense that pornography especially, is becoming an addiction that is ruining relationships and marriages. So this is something that we need to take seriously. Porn is harmful and research is proving it. There’s one thing we need to tell all young people: Porn does not show real sex, and porn is not real love. Pornography is a hollow counterfeit that resembles an outward appearance of a sexual relationship but is the furthest thing from real intimate relationships.

So how does it measure up to our 4 requirements:

Is it free? Yes or no. It could be a free choice to engage in it but it could also be an addiction like a drug where you may feel like you have no choice.

Is it total? No. Masturbation is all about self pleasure never self-gift. You’re never giving yourself to anyone.

Is it faithful? No commitment is made and there is no one to be committed to since it’s all about yourself.

Is it open to life? Obviously no.
We don’t talk about these things to shame you or make you feel bad about yourself. The sin of lust – having lustful thoughts and desires like we talked about in the beginning, is a serious thing but it shouldn’t make you feel bad to the point where you feel embarrassed to even discuss it. What would be terrible would be if we didn’t discuss it and you kept on being a slave to sin, a slave to lust. Especially when it comes to porn and masturbation – I mean – let me reiterate that it’s normal to have feelings of sexual desire. Remember we said God created sex and created US so it’s normal to feel like we want to have sex!  We have this desire for communion! But the answer is not to repress or shove these feelings down. The answer is also not to act on them and think if it feels good, I can do it! We need to learn how to redirect our desires for what is good, true and beautiful. We need to train ourselves to be saints. And we can LOOK to the Saints like St Augustine. Do you know that Augustine had mistresses and an illegitimate child?! The man is now a saint and one of the greatest! And what about Saint Mary Magdalene?  The saints give us hope! They struggled with chastity too! I promise if you start to read about them you’ll feel like you have a friend along the way on your journey to become saints yourself.

I’m praying for you all and I hope you’ll pray for me too!

 

 

 

The Gift of: Life Renewed

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A picture of my favorite Saint posing with my favorite TOB Teacher, who will probably be a Saint someday. St. John Paul II, pray for us both!

Well this was unexpected.

It’s not everyday you hear that your mentor is coming to a chapel near you to give a talk about God, Sex, and The Meaning of Life.

But this evening I found myself driving speeding just a tad to hear Christopher West give a talk at Walsh University, just a little over an hour away from me.

Never mind the fact that I’ve read 3 of his books and attended TOB1 last summer. Never mind that I attended yet another course in August on Catholic Sexual Ethics and plan on attending TOB2 in June this year. Never mind that I am currently facilitating an Intro to TOB DVD series with over a dozen women from my parish. And never mind that I tend to introduce myself as “a crazy TOB gal” upon first meeting anyone with even an inkling of knowledge about our beautiful teaching. And did I mention that I’m pursuing the full certification so one day I can teach TOB?

Clearly, I am not ignorant to Theology of the Body.

So why would I skip out of work an hour early (sorry boss!) to drive an hour away to hear a talk on a subject I clearly know quite a bit about?

Because I can never get enough. And, as much as I think I know, there is ALWAYS more to learn.

I was thinking about this as I made the drive down there to North Canton tonight. I was grinning ear to ear, SO excited to get there and take it all in.

“Who in their right mind would be this ecstatic to hear a chastity talk?”

Probably because it’s SO MUCH MORE than a chastity talk.

And it hit me, sitting there in the pew tonight, listening to Christopher speak:

It takes your breath away.

And it hit me, on the way home, thinking and reflecting on all the changes that have occurred in me since last spring:

Theology of the Body healed me.

Why would I not be excited to hear about the very thing that cured me?

It never ceases to amaze me that I prayed for healing, I cried to God (sometimes out loud and in front of the Blesses Sacrament), to help me.

And it takes my breath away when I realize the work He did in me.

And it takes my breath away when I think,  “If He has the power to convert a huge sinner like me, then there’s hope for every person out there.”


There’s not enough space (and you, dear reader, don’t have enough time) to read about how much TOB changed my life. I’ve written bits and pieces here and here if you’d like to read just a taste of it. (Or, simply search “Theology of the Body” within the blog to find the rest).

The fact that I changed my blog to it’s current name should give you a pretty good indication that this was more than “just another book” that I just happened to read last year.

TOB saved my life, and I don’t know how else to summarize it better than that.

I know that doesn’t really tell anyone anything specific, and that can be frustrating.

But I always remember that Catholicism is a proposal. And TOB is a proposal. And so I can’t force you to learn it, but I can INVITE you to learn it.

So I invite you, whoever you are, wherever you are at in your journey, to take a look at TOB.

It won’t be easy because, after all, this is all very heavy and intense and uncomfortable sometimes. But that’s why we have some great resources to help us in our time of need.

The first is Jesus. (Duh) He’s our first “emergency contact,” if you will.

But sometimes, you need to talk this stuff out with people who are wise and considered the experts.

Your local priest will also be a great resource and can definitely help you navigate your way into the TOB world.

But for those that prefer to remain somewhat anonymous or like reading more than speaking:

This is where I will give a shameless plug to Christopher’s Cor Project and the TOB Institute.

These websites are the go-to sources for every body. Every state in life. Every budget.

  • The Cor Project is fantastic and well worth the $10/month investment to be a member. As a member you have access to his talks that you can download online and SHARE with your friends and family (Hello! Evangelizing for the modern world!) You will also get emails from him on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays.  They include short YouTube videos as well as quotes and blog posts.

I spoke to a few people tonight at the talk who didn’t want to join because they “already have so many emails coming in each day.”

As a daily email addict myself, I found a solution to this problem: Make the emails part of your daily prayer. 

What I mean by that is if you don’t want to stop subscribing to other email lists like The Catholic Company or the USCCB or uCatholic or Matthew Kelly (I told you I was addicted), pick one to focus on in the morning. Even if you’re daily prayer is only 10 minutes, you can still find that time to be useful if you’re really reading and investing time to reflect on the message.

I’ve even watched his video’s during Adoration (headphones in of course) and THAT has proven to be very helpful.

  • The TOB Institute provides all the courses/retreats to the general public so you can become an addict like me further your own personal journey. I wouldn’t be doing a good job of spreading the message of TOB if I didn’t promote the courses. You don’t need to be a religion teacher or a parent or a priest to appreciate these courses. As you have heard it said repeatedly: Theology of the Body is for every body. Yes, that includes those of us who are single! This isn’t just for married folks, folks.

If you can only attend one in your entire life, you must make it to TOB1.  Period. Nuf said. Just go.


My life, in the past year, has totally changed. I remarked to Christopher as he was signing that picture of St. Teresa of Avila, (drawn by his 15 year old son, by the way):

“You know YOU started this Christopher. You did this to me!! You made me into this crazy TOB chick!”

I think I said Thank You. But in case I didn’t:

Thank You! I’m forever grateful for my new life.

 

 

 

 

Living In The Ache

The mystic is the one who allows himself to feel the deepest depths of human desire and chooses to “stay in the pain” of wanting more than this life has to offer. For the mystic, the true pleasures of the world are a welcome but only dim foreshadowing of the ecstasy that awaits him in the life to come. He can live within that “ache” (what the mystical tradition calls “the wound of love”) because of his living hope that his “soul shall be satisfied as with a banquet” (Ps 63:5), a banquet that lasts forever and will fulfill his every desire beyond all earthly imaginings.

The truth is, we’re all called to be “mystics.”  – Christopher West – Fill These Hearts – God, Sex, and the Universal Longing

I guess I’m a little crazy because, I for one, am longing to live in the ache. As soon as I heard it and read about it, I decided “This is ME! This is for me. This is what I am called to do.”

I didn’t always feel this way of course. I never even believed we are all called to holiness. I thought that sounded like a bunch of garbage and just something “really holy people” say to us sinners to trick us into going to confession. So when my buddy Dan got up to speak in front of bunch of us at a retreat and said that God calls us all to holiness, I started to think, “But how? How are you people attaining all this holiness?! What makes you so special?”

Turns out, most people don’t know this truth because they were raised as either stoics or addicts. Probably not 100% true stoics or true addicts in the sense that you’re probably thinking. But stoics as people who were told that their desires or urges were bad and they should be repressed and shoved down into the depths and never spoke about or felt. Addicts were taught that you only live once so you might as well act on those urges and desires as much as you can. But by the way, this doesn’t guarantee happiness. It rarely does, actually.

So where’s the middle ground? Mystics. We need to aim to be more like them. The mystics directed their desires to God. Away from earthly things and towards the heavens. It may seem impossible, but I would offer myself as living proof that the power of prayer makes all things possible.

Desire is the faculty that not only pines after the divine gift, but also receives it when it is given, so the wider our desire, the more capable we are of receiving. Christ wants us to be as wide open to his gift as possible, stretched in our desire unto infinity, because that’s what he has to offer us: the wild ecstasy of infinite bliss. – Christopher West – Fill These Hearts – God, Sex, and the Universal Longing

Wild ecstasy of infinite bliss? Now that’s some good news.

“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

 

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?”