Letters From a Young Catholic

My reflections as a Catholic young adult passionate about the Faith, seeking to grow in knowledge and understanding of God and discerning the will of the Lord in my life.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Papa Bene at WYD

I just had to post my picture of our dearly beloved Pope Benedict XVI that I took at WYD. No zoom. Up close and personal!

This is when he was going to meet with the Seminarians at St. Pantaleon Kirche in Köln on the Friday of World Youth Day. I was waiting outside for seminarian friends who were inside and we just hapenned to be at the right place at the right time. The Holy Father was literally feet away from me and looked straight at me (that's nothing though compared to my friend who's a seminarian and got to speak with the Holy Father and received rosary beads from him). You can't look into his face and even question the presence of the Holy Spirit in the man.

Extra brownie points for anyone who can help me identify who's standing right next to him.

Theology of the Body

I can't have a blog without putting the Theology of the Body on it. I feel very passionately that people need to hear the message of the Theology of the Body. You may think it's just about the sanctity of marriage and the dignity of the human person but it goes so much deeper. The Theology of the Body is about what it means to be a person made in the image of God. It's about all of creation. It's about psychology, sociology, anthropology, biology, theology, philosophy, biblical studies, metaphysics, medicine . . . really, it touches on everything, and that's not an overstatement.

Here's a post I made on www.onerock.com recently about the Theology of the Body in response to some questions being raised about natural family planning (NFP) and the Theology of the Body.

First of all, responsible parenting. The Catholic Church doesn't teach that couples must have as many children as physically possible. It teaches an openess to human life and the gift of children. There's a difference. In Humanae Vitae the guidelines for responsible parenting are stated, yet they leave room for much serious discernment on the part of the couple. For instance, a Husband and wife should consider "their own good and the good of the children already born or yet to come." They should "read signs of the times and of their own situation on the material and spiritual level." Finally, they should consider "the good of the family, of society, and of the Church." One couple might make these considerations and choose to have a large family. Another couple may make these considerations and choose to limit their family size. So long as both couples are acting in good conscience (a good conscience must always be informed) and acting in a way that respects the meaning of sexual union (i.e. not using artificial contraception)- in a way that never falsifies the language of the body- the Church teaches that they are both exercising responsible parenthood. There must always be just reasons for avoiding a pregnancy, yet this must always be done naturally. Just reasons for avoiding a pregnancy must be valid, it does not mean justifying every little reason why a pregnancy may not be convenient. I admit this is not crystal clear, but it must be discerned according to the circumstances of the family and therefore there can't be definitive boundaries set on what is a just reason and what is not a just reason for avoiding pregnancy.

Quoting from Christopher West's "Theology of the Body Explained" (p.429)

"Every time a couple engages in the marital embrace they must speak the language of their bodies in truth. In other words, they must renew honestly (with their bodies) the commitments they freely made at the altar - commitments of fidelity, permanence, and opennesss to children. But are couples always obligated to engage in intercourse? Indeed, on various occasions in life a couple may have good reason to refrain from intercourse. In such cases, abstinence itself becomes an expression of love. The need to avoid a pregnancy is just such an occassion. In itself, refraining from marital union to avoid a pregnancy in no way violates the truth of intercourse as a "sign." In order actively and directly to violate the sign of intercourse, you must first engage in it. Only then can you defraud it of its meaning."

In this excerpt we see the difference between contraception and NFP. While NFP leaves the door open to God. If a couple enters into the marital embrace during an infertile period, consciously practicing NFP, this does not go against God's plan. The fact that the woman doesn't get pregnant during her infertile period is only natural and is in accordance with God's plan for her cycle. She's not supposed to get pregnant then. There's a huge difference with naturally planning when to have children, in accordance with one's cycle (or one's spouse's cycle) as opposed to taking matters into one's own hands disregarding the plan of God. To use artificial contraception is always a denial of the true design of human sexuality and hinders a sexual interaction in a way that it cannot express authentic love, which is always a full gift of oneself, freely given, faithful to the other and bearing fruit (not necessarily offspring, but grace and spiritual fruit as well).

NFP is morally acceptable not because it is not "artificial," but because it is not contraceptive. Couples who use NFP morally never impede the procreative potential of any of their acts of intercourse. In this way the value of the "sign" of intercourse remains objectively intact.

As I already mentioned, Humanae Vitae looks at what it is to authentically love. Authentic love is always free, full, faithful, and fruitful. In considering these aspects of authentic love in relation to contraception and Natural Family Planning we can see how Natural Family Planning allows for authentic love, while contraception prevents it.

With contraception freedom is broken by self-imposed slavery to sexual desires and instinct without a necessity for self-discipline. The couple cannot give fully of themselves to each other as they are expressing a reserved gift (i.e. I give of myself to you except my fertility). Furthermore, they are not being faithful to each other in the marriage vows (assuming their Catholic) to be open to the possibility of the transmission of life during every marital act. Their love does not manifest the fruitfulness of children, and since the love cannot be authentically expressed, they are hindering their marriage rather than receiving the fruitful grace which accompanies sexual intercourse between a married couple without contraception.

Natural Family Planning relates to these aspects of authentic love differently. First of all, naturally family planning puts the couple's freedom to the test during periods of abstinence when they have chosen in fidelity to strengthen the virtue of self-mastery, and when sexually active they give of themselves freely and without reservation. During periods of abstinence there is a mutual trust that enables them to fully surrender to one another and during periods of sexual activity they are able to give of themselves fully without exception. NFP strenthens faithfulness in marriages since if they practice self control within marriage they are more likely to practice self-control outside of marriage (fewer affairs) - interestingly divorce rates among NFP users is virtually non-existent. When they are sexually active they are faithful to God's plan for human sexuality. Furthermore, a couple practicing NFP is always open to the possibility of pregnancy, thus the Holy Spirit is always welcome and they are not suppressing their fertility.

While contraception is an intentional supression of fertility, Natural Family Planning involves learning how the body works and "working with it." Furthermore, periods of absitnence with NFP strengthens the virtue of self-mastery.

This being said, NFP can be used with a contraceptive mentality. Some people take the "responsible parenthood" thing too far and justify not having children for reasons such as "I want a new car."

True responsible parenthood must recognize the natural laws God has given us in our beings and it must include an exercise of reason and will over passions and instinct. Finally, a couple discerning whether they have just reason to avoid pregnancy must consider the physical, economic, psychological, and social circumstances in which they find themselves. These will vary from couople to couple, but if a couple is a ttentive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and their consciences they will know if they are acting in God's will or not.

Here's my Theology of the Body reading list for anyone who wants more information:

Theology of the Body, JPII
Love and Responsibility, Karol Wojtyla (JPII)
Crossing the Threshold of Love, Mary Shivanandan
Theology of the Body Explained, Christopher West
The Good News About Sex and Marriage, Christopher West
The Splendor of Love, Fr. Schu
The Jeweler Shop, JPII (it's a play!)
Sex and the Marriage Covenant, John Kippley
The Billings Method, Evelyn Billings
Humanae Vitae, A Generation Later, Janet Smith
Humanae Vitae

Happy reading! That should keep you going for a while! :-)

Note: Theology of the Body is not simply a reference to 'our' bodies, but rather to THE Body, that is, the Word made flesh, Christ, in whom all revelation is found. To understand the Theology of the Body in this way truly brings it to the center of all areas of life.

My Favourite Links

This is a site for young Catholic adults. Its forums are particularly interesting and some pretty good discussions of Catholic Life and Faith arise. While there are many 'orthodox' Catholics on the site, there's also a fair amount of people who challenge you to defend particular teachings of the Faith. It's great for practicing your apologetics skills.


I'm biased to this site. It's our archdiocese vocations site. It's well set up though and it has some good links. Check it out. Pray for an increase to vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit for all those who are discerning their vocation in life.

This is the site for Catholic Christian Outreach. It's a group that does Catholic evangelism and outreach on secular university campuses throughout Canada. They're amazing. I go to their events sometimes it really encourages me in my faith. Only God could bring 300 university students together on a Saturday night to spend several hours together in adoration. The Church is definitely alive!


Well, this site is self explanatory. Unlimited reading resources that will change your life. Check out its library. Reading encyclicals does the soul good.

Catholic Encyclopedia on-line. Every theology students best friend.

Thanks for an intelligent journal that posts articles for free. This is an ecumenical journal but it has really really good articles on faith and morals.

Missing Pope John Paul II

I really miss him. That may sound juvenile, but it's true. I was reading a book of his poetry the other day and as I was reading it I was reminded of what an amazing person he is. I know that I've only scratched the surface, yet as I begin reading more and more of his texts, such as Love and Responsibility, The Theology of the Body, and many of his encyclicals I feel as if I'm getting to know him better in his death than in his life. I am confident though that our beloved John Paul II is guiding me in my readings.

He means so much to me as a "JPII'er." He's the only Pope I've ever known until a couple of months ago, and what a witness to the role of the papacy and magisterium he has been for me.

I went to World Youth Day for the first time this year. At first I was skeptical of the whole event, but falling to my knees in adoration with 800 000 other people of God convinced me that the event was valid. Only God can bring one million people together to adore Him. What a legacy Pope John Paul II has left us in World Youth Day. It's not just a legacy of celebration, but also a legacy of expectation.

He expects the youth of the world to strive for a better world, in which the dignity of life is protected and its sanctity upheld. He expects us to live in the life of the Spirit and in accordance with the teachings of the Church. I think the problem with many young adults in our society is that no one has given them appropriate expectations to live up to. John Paul II has called us on a very specific mission, the renewal of the face of the Earth through the work of God.

Thankfully, it's not just his legacy that lives on, but rather he is still alive and well in the Church. Thanks be to God for the universal Church!

Thanksgiving and praise be to God also for providing us with Pope Benedict XVI. He too bears the serenity of the Holy Spirit's precense. One need only look into his eyes, as I did at World Youth Day, and all doubts with regards to the Holy Spirit's presence and guidance in the papacy will vanish.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

How do you show the authentic love of Christ?

The theme question for the past few weeks for me has been how to live in charity, loving others, but without sending the wrong message. How is one to live a life of integrity, sincerely loving others? How do you show the authentic love of Christ?

You see, the problem isn't so much the loving bit. The problem is to send the appropriate message with my love, which really is not my own, but comes from Heaven.

First, there's the guy situation. How do you deal with a guy that likes you when you're not interested in him, yet want to show the love of Christ? Any act of charity gets misinterpreted as affection and romantic interest. What to do with the guy who makes himself vulnerable and shares his broken life while expressing his romantic interest in you? One cannot just reject them. Leave them open and wounded, crying out for love and standing alone. To show the love of Christ, yet without sending mixed messages. That's not easy. How do you show the authentic love of Christ?

Then there's another context that arises. Completely different. Other persons entirely. Yet ultimately the same question will arise. How to deal with the prostitute and the adulteress who turns to you for friendship, support, and encouragement. To condemn the sin and love the sinner is not always easy. How do you reinforce their dignity as human persons, yet make it clear that what has been done is wrong, and at the same time not be judgemental? When one can see the Truth of God's plan for humanity, how painful it is to see the rot of sin in society. Yet to love the sinner. To be the person who chooses to speak with the prostitutes and adultresses. Not to cast stones upon them. Yet condemn their acts. That's not easy. How do you show the authentic love of Christ?

Reception of the Eucharist at Age of Reason

I just thought I'd share some enlightenment I gained today.

I had a non-Catholic friend of mine recently ask me why it was that in the Orthodox Church infants received first communion at the time of baptism (I know they also are confirmed then, but I we didn't go into that) while in the Catholic Church children receive first communion at the age of reason. I thought that was a pretty good question and it made me curious to dig deeper for an answer that would satisfy. Here's what I found.

There are two ways to look at this issue, one is pastorally and the other is theologically.

For the pastoral reason, we turn to 1 Corinthians 11:27-29

"27Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself."

While verse 27 speaks of receiving in an unworthy manner because of the guilt of sin, this wouldn't been an issue for infants since they are already in a state of grace after having been baptised and are capable of no sin as infants. In v.28 and particularly on v.29 there is an emphasis on recognizing what one is receiving, "For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself." Therefore, according to the Catholic Church, the pastoral implication of this verse is that reception of the Eucharist should be reserved for children who are of an age of reason and thus capable of recognizing the Eucharist as the body and blood of Christ.

Then there's the theological reasoning. As was mentioned before, an infant who was baptised would be in state of perfect grace. Therefore, receiving the Eucharist would be almost superfluous for them. How can perfect grace be made more perfect? A sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace. That's a fancy way of saying that the sacraments are means through which God gives us grace. This grace would not be needed nor necessary for a baptised infant since the stain of original sin has been removed from them. Although the effects of original sin remain, theoretically they are not capable of sining until they have reached an age of reason. Until they are able to discern good from evil. Therefore, in this light, it makes sense that they would receive their first communion at the age of reason, because with reason they have (probably, for the most of us) sinned, and thus they are no longer in a state of perfect grace and would benefit from the graces received in the Eucharist.

It seems to me that the Catholic practice makes sense, but I'm curious as to what others think.