The Marriage Problem—What Can Be Done?

When Pope Francis was returning from South Korea, he was interviewed en route. The subject was the Islamic attack on Christians in Iraq and Syria, and he was asked point blank, “What can be done?” Pope Francis replied that it would be legitimate to use force to stop the unjust aggression of those who are committing the rampant murders of Christians and other minorities in Iraq.

More recently, on September 10th, Cardinal Francis George blasted the Obama administration and allies of the pro-sodomy movement for forcing a “public creed” on Americans, compelling all to accept “gay marriage” and other “sexual anomalies.” Again, what can be done? I have previously blogged (e.g., 8/17/2014) on the direct relationship between accepting marital contraception including marital heterosexual sodomy and the consequent acceptance of homosexual sodomy parading as “marriage.” Unfortunately, the record of the last 46 years does not reveal great leadership by our bishops and Cardinals in support of Humanae Vitae and providing understandable theology and practical help. In fact, I can testify to the exclusion I experienced for many years by priests who did not accept Humanae Vitae and/or my efforts to teach natural family planning in the context of Catholic doctrine.

The Pope and the entire Church are faced with a similar problem with the number of Catholics who have married validly, then divorced, then remarried in a civil ceremony, and now would like to receive Holy Communion without the repentance of living as brother and sister. The question is overwhelmingly obvious: “What can be done?” Among the answers that have been offered is the concept of better preparation for marriage.

Well, yes. But what does that mean? For more than 40 years we have had an army of services to help couples have better marriages, but the Catholic divorce rate remains very close to the secular rate of one in every two marriages. So it seems that something more than communication skills and money management is needed, important as those are.

The one group that does better than the average marriage-wise is that small group of couples who practice natural family planning. This has long been known, and that’s undoubtedly why the US Bishops’ Committee on Pastoral Research and Practices urged, back in 1989, that every engaged couple be required to participate in a full course on natural family planning, not just an hour or two NFP presentation in a weekend pre-Cana conference.

That raises a further question: is it sufficient to learn just about fertility awareness? Or should NFP instruction prior to marriage be seen as an unrepeatable opportunity to evangelize engaged couples? I stress unrepeatable because preparation for marriage may be the only time a parish priest will ever be in a one-and-one-couple situation in which he can talk frankly about the Lord Jesus and discipleship and salvation. Too many of his engaged couples are not active in parish life or even in Church every Sunday. To repeat, this may be his only opportunity to evangelize them on a personal basis.

In our organization, Natural Family Planning International, we see marriage preparation as that unique opportunity. We put this conviction into practice right in the first pages of our user’s manual, Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach. The three-page Introduction is titled “Where Faith and Science Meet.” It’s next-to-last paragraph sums it this way: “The time has come to return to the biblically based faith that sexual intercourse is intended by God to be exclusively a marriage act, and that within marriage it ought to be a renewal of the self-giving love and commitment of the couple’s original marriage covenant. For many, this realization of the meaning of the marriage act has been a life-changing experience.”

Chapter 1 is an example of the New Evangelization, and by that I mean the effort to help Catholics understand that the teachings of the Church, including its challenging moral teachings, are ultimately the teachings of the Lord Jesus. A short section titled “Why should I believe what the Catholic Church teaches?” reminds the reader that Christ at the Last Supper promised that the Holy Spirit would continue to guide the Church in its teaching. We use the example of the Nicene Creed that Mass-attending Catholics recite every Sunday, implicitly believing that the bishops at Nicea got it right because they were led by the Holy Spirit. Our treatment is brief, but it opens the door for the parish priest or deacon to elaborate on this and to teach what it means to believe that Jesus keeps his promises.

A section titled “The Bible and Church teaching on contraception” briefly treats of the Sin of Onan, other sexual sins, the Theology of the Body, and the covenant theology of sexuality. We also include the brief but important teaching of Pope Benedict XVI about the importance of the heart, not just the intellect, in following Jesus. This section also conveys Catholic teaching about specific immoralities such as masturbation and marital sodomy. These things are nobody’s favorite subjects, but they need to be taught because we know that some or many engaged and married couples engage in these behaviors, sometimes without ever knowing they are wrong because they were never taught these specifics.

Chapter 7 is written by user couples ranging from a woman who was a truth-seeking atheist when she first stumbled upon NFP and the covenant theology, a man who used “NFP” wrongly, a woman who learned and practiced ecological breastfeeding, another man who found us through my theology book that he found “painful” to read because it led him to the truth which he had not been practicing, and a wife who, with her husband, was gradually led into the Catholic Church through ecological breastfeeding and the NFPI form of NFP and theology.

The last chapter of the manual opens with two short paragraphs encouraging chastity and noting that the ultimate purpose of human relationships is to help the other person on the path to heaven.

The point is obvious. In this manual, parish priests and deacons have texts that provide an easy way to evangelize their engaged couples on these sensitive matters. They have a theology that works with couples with open hearts.

Every priest and deacon doing marriage preparation ought to have a copy of Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach on his desk, and I recommend the spiral-bound edition because it lies flat and is thus easier for sharing with couples. I think they would do well to insist that their couples obtain a copy themselves, whether in print or as a freewill-offering download.

The Lord Jesus teaches us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt 11:28-30). God NEVER teaches that love is easy. The Lord tells us clearly that being a disciple involves being yoked to Jesus, but compared to the other difficulties of life and the self-inflicted burdens of sin, the yoke of discipleship is easy and the burden is light. We do ourselves and others no favor by teaching them that following Catholic moral teaching is easy. For very good reason the Lord Jesus gave us the sacraments and his mother urges us to pray the rosary. For all of these reasons, chaste NFP needs to be taught in the context of Christian discipleship.

To return to the opening paragraph, in the current war against basic Christian morality, it is surely Christian prudence to require engaged couples to participate in the right kind of NFP course as a normal part of preparation for lifelong marriage. In most localities, the easiest way to do this is to have the couples take the NFPI Home Study Course via email. They will be amazed at how much they learn. On the other hand, fertility-awareness-only courses are not helpful for the evangelization task at hand. For more on the right kind of NFP course, see http://nfpandmore.org/the_right_kind_of_NFP_CW.pdf

John F Kippley, September 20, 2014

At the NFPI website, www.nfpandmore.org , you can find registration for the Home Study Course, Sheila’s weekly blog, and Your Right To Know what’s involved in NFP education.

 

 

Engaging Islam and the Islamists

Pope Francis was in the online news recently because of what he said about Islam in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. “Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (n. 253). In this document of 288 numbered sections, there are 217 references, but there are no references for this statement regarding Islam. In response, the onepeterfive.com blog listed quotations from seven saints and a recent scholar who would have a hard time agreeing with the papal statement.   Some of the statements by Catholic saints were made just prior to their being killed by Muslims for their refusal to convert to Islam. The papal wishful statement was in the context of hoping for mutual understanding and for better treatment of Christians in areas of Muslim dominance: “I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries!” To which we can all say “Amen.”

Henry Kissinger made the headlines this week (9/9/14) with his new book, World Order (Penguin Press) in which he discusses the role of the West and especially America in responding to the rising challenge of militant Islam. According to the USA Today article (9/9/14), Kissinger thinks the United States “needs to strike the terror group in retaliation for the decapitation of two American journalists, then eliminate it ‘as an operating force in the region’ .”

That seems to be the conventional wisdom this week. But it was just a month ago that the papers were filled with reminiscences and second thoughts about the wisdom of European countries going into all-out war over the murder of Archduke Ferdinand of the Austria-Hungary empire by a crazy Serb 100 years ago this past August. In my opinion, there is ample justification for a military response to ISIS, but the double murder of two Americans is a small part of it. Their murders have served to get the attention of President Obama, but any action based primarily on revenge or showing how tough we can be is bound to be ultimately tragic and fruitless in the long run. And, after all, America is not exactly innocent. Our liberal society murders some 4,000 unborn children every day, and the exclusion of God from public life and education is yielding such a high murder rate that these killings barely make the news.

A huge problem in America is the near deification of democracy. In terms of centuries of world history, Western democratic republics are still an experiment. They are based on Christian principles of the dignity of the human person, respect for minorities, and long-term self-interest that does not always seek what is best immediately for one’s own pocketbook. As St. John Paul II pointed out, the West is forgetting its own history and the faith on which Europe was based. It is all too easy to slip from democracy into demagoguery.

That’s sort of a long winded way of saying that as the secular but once-Christian West engages ISIS in what the latter sees as primarily a religious war, the West had better be clear about its limited objectives. May we be spared any talk about converting the Islamic world to democracy.   As Kissinger noted, the United States has “been in five wars since World War II, and in only one can we say we’ve reached the objective stated. So we should state the objective that does not get us into an endless conflict.”

For a model, Kissinger suggests the 1839 Treaty of London which guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium, a small country that had been the battleground between other forces because of its strategic location. Others have suggested the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia as a model—it concluded the Thirty Years war in which northern Germany had kept trying to impose its Protestantism on southern Germany. Will it take 30 years of warfare with militant Islam to arrive at an agreement not to try to impose your religion by force? But if conquest and conversion by force is built into the nature of Islam, can there ever be a peace that is more than a truce?

It seems to me that the bottom line has to be constant prayer for the conversion of Islam. We have been praying for the conversion of Russia for almost 100 years, and today we can see great progress.   Russia has converted from its embrace of Communism. To be sure, its nationalism is up and running, and there is still much to pray for, but we have no grounds for discouragement.

So, it seems to me that there needs to be a very widespread and continued effort to spread the idea of praying simultaneously for the conversion of Islam and for the conversion of America and Europe as well as for the continued conversion of Russia. Perhaps my Seven Day Bible Rosary can help some folks in praying the daily rosary.

John F. Kippley, September 13, 2014 Click on the Seven Day Bible Rosary near the top of this website.

 

 

Peter’s Professions of Faith and Reason

The Gospel reading for Sunday, August 24, (Matthew 16:13-20) was about Peter’s profession of faith. After Jesus had asked the Apostles what people were saying about him and had received various responses, he put the question directly to them: “ ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.’ “

What did Jesus mean when he said, “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you…”? I assume that the Apostles had discussed the identity of Jesus, as so many were doing. They may have all speculated and even agreed that he is the Messiah foretold by the prophets, that is, understood as an extraordinary man and prophet. They had seen the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and numerous other healings. They had heard him say about himself, “…the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath.” They had witnessed the healing of the paralytic and heard Jesus say that this healing was a sign of his divine power: ”But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” This was unheard of, something the prophets had never said, but later Jesus would confer the power of absolution on his priests, so it could be argued that Jesus was merely saying that he had a delegated power. They had witnessed the feeding of the 5,000. But now something new happens. The Father takes Peter beyond what he had already seen and heard and thought about with his flesh and blood powers and reveals to Peter that Jesus is “The Son of the living God.” To answer the question at the start of this paragraph, I think Jesus told Peter that his profession was not just the result of his observations and thinking but was a special gift—the gift of faith—to believe that Jesus is more than a prophet and fully shares the divine nature of God the Father.

The Gospel for Sunday, August 31st is about Peter’s profession of reason. It continues with the text of Matthew 16: 21-27, and provides a stark comparison. Jesus taught the Apostles about his coming suffering and death, and here Peter truly used his flesh and blood reasoning powers. We can imagine him thinking, “How can Jesus suffer and be put to death? Certainly that seems incompatible with his being ‘the Christ, the Son of the Living God.’ Certainly the Son of the Living God has the power to stop his enemies.” So Jesus rebuked Peter: “Get behind me Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

I suggest there is a practical lesson in the suffering episode. The problem of suffering is something that all of us encounter. It may be our own personal sufferings, or it may be the sufferings of others. The problem of suffering is perplexing. We may even criticize our own perplexity. That is, I know that God brings good out of evil, so why am I so concerned about a particular suffering? For example, God knows the needs of the displaced persons and refugees in the Middle East and elsewhere, so why are we concerned and praying for their relief? To give a partial answer, there may be more people of contrary faiths praying for the refugees in Iraq than ever before. Such prayer unites us, and that’s a good thing. Ultimately, the only answer is the Cross. However, when we encounter perplexity about suffering, we can take at least some comfort in the fact that the Prince of the Apostles was also perplexed. St. Peter, pray for us when we are perplexed by suffering.

John F. Kippley, September 6, 2014. See also Sheila’s weekly blog at www.nfpandmore.org .

Radiating Jesus in Our Parishes, 5

This is my fifth and last commentary on The Church in America.

What can ordinary lay people do to make their parish one that truly radiates Christ?

First of all, they need to make sure they are on board with full Catholic teaching. I recently had an email from a couple who had been practicing sexual immoralities during the fertile time for some 23 years in their misunderstanding of NFP. They said they were never told that abstinence meant CHASTE abstinence.   That is, their NFP program and teacher never told them that chaste abstinence entails sexual self-control and that cuddling should not proceed to climax, masturbation or marital sodomy etc.

Second, they can and should pray for their parish priests to do what only they can do. Third, they can also talk with their priests and ask them to do everything they can to preach and teach marital chastity.

Third, they can support the teaching of Humanae Vitae via the covenant theology of sexuality. “Sexual intercourse is intended by God to be at least implicitly a renewal of the marriage covenant.” This makes sense to people of faith and good will. It is so simple and so obvious once people learn and believe it that they can use it to explain and support Catholic teaching. Ordinary lay people can also promote and teach chaste Natural Family Planning including ecological breastfeeding and generosity in having children. It cannot be forgotten that the Church needs at least three children per family for long term survival.

The bottom line is this. When the teaching of Humanae Vitae is accepted and lived by the majority of fertile-age married couples in a parish, that parish will have healthy-sized families, vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and the basis for being a community of small communities. Then our parishes will truly be radiating the Lord Jesus and attracting men and women of good will.

Not to be ignored, when a diocese is filled with believing parishes, it can have a significant influence in the election of representatives who are truly pro-chastity, pro-family, and pro-life.   The truly Catholic parish and diocese will be counter-cultural. Thus it can and will make a difference. Amen.

John F. Kippley, August 31, 2014

 

 

Radiating Jesus in Our Parishes, 4

This is my fourth comment on section 41 of The Church in America.

My previous comments showed why many parishes are not radiating the call and the attraction of Jesus. Essentially, if and when the call of Jesus to faith and repentance (Mark 1:15…) is muted and rejected by priests and parishioners alike, whatever is radiated is not the call of Jesus. Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story.

What can be done?

In my opinion, parish reform and renewal starts with parish priests. First of all, they have to come to believe that the practice of contraception is a grave moral evil. But that’s not enough. They also have to do what they can to lead their parishioners to believe what the teaching Church actually DOES teach about the immorality of contraception.

That may involve preaching from the pulpit, which can be difficult, and it can include little lessons in the parish bulletin. Priests can also do a tremendous amount of good in their face to face dealings with engaged and married couples. With the right kind of materials at hand, they can help people to know and understand the teachings and also to understand the biblical reasons for believing that Jesus is the ultimate author of these teachings. To encourage and support breastfeeding mothers, pastors can start chapters of the Catholic Nursing Mothers League; see www.catholicbreastfeeding.com .

Second, they can require their engaged couples to take the right kind of course dealing with natural family planning. They can also make sure that their RCIA instruction contains the full teaching of Humanae Vitae. They can insist that the laity who participate in the public ministries of the Church as Lectors and Distributors of Holy Communion believe and practice what the Church teaches on these matters.

In the right kind of NFP course, couples will learn about the kind of nursing—ecological breastfeeding—that normally delays the return of fertility for more than a year. They will learn how to monitor the wife’s fertility. They will learn the relevant moral teaching of the Church. Unfortunately, most NFP programs omit both the ecological breastfeeding instruction and the relevant moral teaching of the Church. So pastors can either insist that local programs expand their teaching to include these subjects and all the signs of fertility, or they can bring in NFP International and its Home Study Course.

Teaching relevant and specific morality is important. Leon Joseph Cardinal Suenens wrote succinctly in his 1960 book, Love and Control, “The sins of omission and laziness of those who, for whatever reason, have the job of giving sex instruction will weigh heavier on the last day than the sins of the men and women who were never sufficiently instructed to meet their obligations.”

Third, pastors can insert instructional sheets on these issues in the parish bulletins.

Fourth, all pastors can use the NFPI Home Study Course for their engaged couples. It contains all the teachings discussed in this series and is about half the cost of some other natural family planning online programs. Couples who take the NFPI course received lots of individual attention.

Next week: What can ordinary lay people do?

John F. Kippley, August 24, 2014

View NFP International and its Home Study Course at www.nfpandmore.org.

 

 

Radiating Jesus in Our Parishes, 3

This is my third commentary on section 41 of The Church in America.

Why isn’t the typical American parish radiating Jesus? I think that the main reason for the failure of the typical Western parish to radiate Jesus is the non-preaching and non-acceptance of Mark 1:15, that call to a change of heart. While we can never say anything about any particular couple or parish, the statistics say that the teaching of Humanae Vitae is widely rejected. At the USCCB website you can find an article that says that only one-tenth of one percent of Catholic women who are doing anything about birth control are using any natural form of conception regulation. Pope Paul VI certainly was correct in 1968 when he wrote the following in Humanae Vitae, section 18:

It is to be anticipated that perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching. There is too much clamorous outcry against the voice of the Church, and this is intensified by modern means of communication. But it comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a “sign of contradiction.” She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical.

Truly Pope Paul VI was prophetic.   In section 17 just preceding this, he prophesied about the various adverse consequences of the widespread societal acceptance of marital contraception.

Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone [emphasis added]. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.

In short, the Pope predicted something very close to the ObamaCare birth control mandate. What the Pope was too polite to say is that once a culture accepts one unnatural form of sexual activity such as marital contraception, it has no logical way of saying “no” to any other such activity. In his commentary on Genesis 38:6ff, Martin Luther correctly called the Sin of Onan a form of sodomy. Once a culture accepts marital heterosexual sodomy, it has no way to say no to homosexual sodomy. The same-sex “marriage” issue is the direct consequence of the societal acceptance of marital contraception.

The bottom line is that when a significant majority of fertile-age Catholic parishioners accept and practice marital contraception, the parish is failing to be the faithful organism that is radiating the Lord Jesus. What is radiating is not the pleasant odor of sanctity, to use a pious phrase, or even that of antiseptics as in the hospital image of the Church. Instead, the smell is not sweet.

It would be nice if I am wrong. But how can a parish in which pastors won’t preach and parishioners won’t accept what the Church teaches are the divine truths about human love—how can such a parish radiate Christ who is the ultimate Author of these truths?

Next week. What can priests do easily and without significant costs of any kind?

John F. Kippley, August 17, 2014

 

 

 

 

Radiating Jesus in Our Parishes, 2

This is my second comment on the 1999 papal exhortation titled The Church in America.

This teaching from St. John Paul II presents a beautiful ideal, but it is far from being realized. It seems to me, a man who sits in the pews, that it might be helpful to have greater clarity and emphasis on the ultimate purpose of the parish. That is, what is the real purpose of the parish? Isn’t it to help individual persons grow in Christian holiness?

It is certainly true that one way in which the parish leadership assists its members to grow in holiness is to encourage community among parish members and to encourage service to others, whether parish members or not, as indicated in section 41 of The Church in America. Let’s call that the Matthew 25 Last Judgment and humanitarian aspect of parish life.

But that’s not all. What about the call of Jesus as he started his public ministry? “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Or, in a few more words: Have a change of heart. Wherever necessary, have a change in behavior. You can’t serve God and mammon. Don’t worry about what to eat and drink. Seek first the kingdom of God and trust Him to take care of the rest of it.

Is this the way it is? We are supposed to be a Eucharistic community, but some statistics indicate that a very large percent of Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence. We have very clear teaching against all unnatural forms of birth control and in favor of generosity in having children, but the statistics show that only a very small percent of fertile-age couples accept these teachings. If they were followed, we would anticipate lots of babies and larger families.   Our seminary problems would chiefly be having enough space and faculty to handle the crowd.

Next week: Why isn’t it happening?

John F. Kippley, August 10, 2014

See also Sheila’s blog at www.nfpandmore.org/wordpress .

P. S. My effort to explain and uphold Humanae Vitae via the covenant theology of sexuality is published by Ignatius Press as Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality. This is the book that, in a previous edition, helped Scott and Kimberly Hahn, while still Protestants, to accept Catholic teaching on birth control. During its summer sale, Ignatius is offering it for only $6.00, but only through August.