Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Comments on "Of Crucifixion and NFP" from

In this posting are three comments I made at to Christopher Zender's post titled "Of Crucifixion and NFP: An invitation to a discussion about contraception, NFP, and related topics" under "Notes from a Cultural Madhouse"
See the full discussion.

Note: CalCatholic is an online site that has replaced several print newspapers published by James Holman, one of which was San Francisco Faith, for which I wrote some articles for a couple of years. Christopher Zender, who wrote the post, is the former editor.

My comments:
I used to believe that NFP was a good thing because it is allowed by the Church, so I started to try to write up a defense of NFP for a niece who is Catholic but who does not accept many Church teachings, including the teachings on contraception. Then I looked into various places on the web where good people like you were discussing the topic. Some think that we should never do anything to limit the number of children we have, seeing each child as a gift from God. Every child we bring into the world has the potential for eternal life of joy in the presence of God. Come to think of it, the human race lived that way for most of its existence. That idea gave me pause.

I pretty much my opinion on this thought: that NFP could be practiced if there was a grave reason, but not as Catholic family planning. For most modern Catholics who have been subtly and not so subtly taught by Catholic moral theologians and even their confessors that contraception is ok, NFP would be a big stretch, and accepting all the children God gives you would be an even bigger stretch.

I never thought about how NFP results in sex being possible only during times when women are not much interested in sex. That would be another argument against its use. Wouldn't women feel pressured to make love with their husbands during their infertile periods because of the desire not to remove that intimacy totally from their lives?

I cannot speak to this personally, but in the old days, couples often stopped marital relations when they reached the family size they wanted. I can believe it would just happen naturally, sort of dropping out of the picture. Freud and his wife stopped sleeping together after they had four . . ..

Comment 2:
Hello again Christopher and all,

For some reason, the paragraphs in my last comment all ran together. Oh well.

I mentioned Freud's arrangement with his wife only because he is the only public figure that I know of from before the time of wide-spread contraception who went on record stating that marital intimacy ended because the couple did not want any more children.

You are right, there probably isn't anything wrong with a spouse accepting intimacy even when he or she doesn't feel like it. But [from what Zehnder wrote[ it sounds to me that NFP might result in the wife accepting intimacy ONLY when she didn't feel like it. Speaking as a woman, of course, facing a life of intimacy ONLY as an act of charity to my husband would not be a bright prospect. Consenting to this course might truly be heroic.

I don't think accepting all the children God sends us even when it is hard to raise and educate them is necessarily heroic. Otherwise, all married couples in straitened circumstances before the advent of birth control would have been heroic.

If a person is forced into complete abstinence by needing not to have any more children, that would not justify adultery any more than a person who is single would be justified in fornication.

Think about it from this angle: The Lord does not ask of us anything He doesn't give us the grace to do. We can offer our sufferings in raising our children or in living celibately with a spouse [or not] in reparation for our sins and those of the whole world.

I'm trying to suggest that marriages that end up not being intimate might have been (and still might be) a lot more common than our current mindset can imagine, with a lot less suffering involved than we think. I've even heard comments from very secular new parents about how intimacy between the husband and wife loses its importance when they move into building the family together.

Perhaps there are stages of marriage and life-long intercourse may not be as important as our culture makes us think it is.

Comment 3
No problem with what you are saying. However, whenever you use the word "Church" I substitute "Christ." As St. Joan of Arc said, there is no difference. So, for example, your final sentence is read by me this way: "Christ has very high standards but is also quite realistic." Does that ring true to you? It doesn't quite, for me. It makes the Church sound very Mosaic, as in "Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of your hearts."

I personally find that abstinence as a single person is an occasion of temptation too, but the temptation isn't overwhelming enough for me to face the temporal and spiritual consequences of straying from what God intended in the matter. I would hope that husbands tempted to find comfort would find the same things holding them back. A man who strays would have to chose between having a contraceptive relationship with a prostitute or a mistress versus risking impregnating the woman in order not to be deprived. The consequences, again, would be more than one might bargain for spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

You haven't addressed the problem I pointed out based on what you said about NFP that a woman may never be able to have intercourse except during her times of least interest except for the times when the couple is trying to have a child. JP II's theology of the body is pretty frank about how a woman's needs must be respected.

Thanks for bringing up and maintaining a discussion on a very interesting topic.

How I Became a Lapsed Catholic Part I

When I look at myself in my First Communion photo, with my hands folded flat together with fingers pointing to the ceiling like a saint in a holy card, dressed in my cheap white veil and dress, holding my plastic rosary, I remember that I started out a pious little girl. I was so serious about the Catholic faith, that I often wonder how I could have diverged so far away from the beliefs of that little girl as I did.

One possible way that I can account for the loss of my early pious faith is to speculate that my religion back then, as is true for many other Catholics then and now, was mostly in my head.

I am tentative about this, because I have yet to explore this idea fully, but I sense that the pre-Vatican II priestly, religious, and social life of many Catholics, while externally staid and observant of all the rules, often hid a secret lack of love for Jesus and lack of heartfelt trust in the rightness and loving guidance of His teachings as handed down by the Catholic Church. Jesus said this, loosely quoting Isaiah, in Matthew 15;8: 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.' He was talking about the scribes and the Pharisees. I think for most of us, our religion was that of the scribes and Pharisees.

Why do I sense this? I'm trying to recall some memories. One clue to my eventual apostasy might be in the difference between what the Church taught and what I (and everyone around me) practiced when I was old enough to date. For example, even though we believed in the teachings of the Church about the serious sin involved in occasions of sin, such as passionate kissing, when we were teenagers, we did what was societally tolerated.

Since our group of Boston Irish and Italian Catholic peers did not frown on necking (passionate kissing for hours on end), everyone did that on dates. But because it was still commonly understood that a girl would lose her respectability and chance at a good marraige if she "went all the way," only the wild or stupid girls or girls made drunk by their boyfriends would take that risk. Most of the good Catholic boys in the mean time, even though they wanted to marry a virgin, were trying as hard as they could to seduce any girl that would allow it. The double standard was in full force. The boys weren't anxious to preserve their own chastity, even though they were Catholic. They were anxious to experience intercourse, enough so that they didn't seem to care what damage they would be doing to any girl who would find herself seduced and despised at the same time. And the girls were anxious, I think, more to preserve their reputation and avoid the condemnation of society than to do what the Church taught. We went to Catholic schools and confession every week and Mass every Sunday, but our hearts were not converted.

During the times when strikes by long range nuclear missiles were being talked about in the news, I remember my sisters and close girl cousin and I talking about what we would do if we knew that a missile was on its way to destroy the East Coast. Somebody came up with a novel idea that we should rush out and have intercourse with our boyfriends if we could be sure that we would be able to get to confession before the bomb struck. Talk about nuclear brinkmanship! There was a lot of that kind of behavior going around those days. Do something sinful Friday night, confess it on Saturday night and be forgiven so you would not have to skip Communion on Sunday and face questions about why you stayed in your pew when everyone else went up to the altar rail.

You don't have to tell me that those confessions were probably not valid, because they lacked one of the vital conditions, a firm purpose of amendment.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Be Careful Who You Believe

Where I stand on the historical nature of the Bible compared to the stance taken by those I believe are misinterpreters of Vatican II is pretty much covered in an old email I came across in my outbox today.
I wrote the included email in February of 2005 and sent it to a secular Carmelite email group.

----------- Start email ----------------------------------------

_Name_removed_, you really seem to look down on people who have traditional beliefs.

That's one of the characteristics I've observed in many people who have been "educated" with current interpretations of what Vatican II supposedly said. These "educated" people are very proud because they believe they know better than the Church did for thousands of years.

And they are eager to teach traditional believers why they are wrong wrong wrong.

Please read what I wrote below to see why I prefer traditionalists to most of what theologians are teaching today.

Fellow Carmelites:

Be careful where you turn for continuing education. Read the recent Church documents yourselves. Don't rely on others' interpretations. I have seen many examples of priests and theologians misinterpreting the Vatican II documents, essentially ignoring the real wording and intent to get their agendas across.

Included below are a few examples.

Don't rush to judgment against conservatives. Many people who call themselves orthodox are trying to help the Church hold on against modern heresies.

Please don't rely on modern Bible commentaries.

As an example, the New American Bible commentary says that the Magnificat was not prayed by Mary. It was taken from an early Christian hymn, didn't really have much to do with the story at that point, and was inserted by the author, who was almost certainly [according to the commentator] was not Luke.

The reason why we can find such erroneous speculations in an approved version of the Bible is that modern Bible interpreters believe and teach along with many of our priests and bishops that the New Testament was not written by the saints the Church has always said wrote them. According to these theories, the Gospels were so to speak published under the names that would give them credibility. (In other words, they were published as lies under noms de plume.)

Those who hold these theories teach that the people of the Bible times did not expect writings like the Bible writings to be actually true.

I prefer to believe with the Church and the saints that Mary spoke those words. When she spoke about the mighty being put down from their thrones and the lowly being exalted, she reflected many similar canticles from the Old Testament that prophesied the Incarnation of Christ, which was happening at that moment. Mary was a devout Jew who believed the Scriptures that she heard. She, a young powerless girl, was being exalted as God's promise to His people was being fulfilled.

According to the modern deconstructionists of the Bible, the New Testament books were written by "communities" looking back on what they had heard. Many modern "Catholic" scholars follow the lead of many liberal Protestant scholars, and they believe and teach in our colleges and seminaries that the books of the Bible are essentially inspired fictions. According to these theorists, we don't have to believe anything the Bible teaches as fact, we just have to grasp what the Bible authors intended to teach us. We are all supposed to read the Bible like poetry and discover the real meaning beneath the words.

That kind of belief is what led a Franciscan priest at a retreat I attended to first read from the gospel where Jesus said that divorce is not allowed to then to preach in his following homily that Jesus wasn't against divorce. The text was right there in front of this priest and the words of Christ barely out of his mouth, but he felt confident in saying what he did because he didn't believe the text.

I asked him how he could contradict what the Bible said, and he said that a theologian wrote that Jesus wasn't really against divorce. So the speculations of one 20th century theologian had as much weight in that priest's mind as Jesus' own words and the accumulated teachings of the Church throughout the ages.

I came across other examples of that kind of thinking when I was a student for two years at the San Jose CA Institute for Leadership in Ministry. The teachers we had there teach at the local Catholic colleges and seminaries. In their teachings, Church documents are being distorted and used as "proof texts" for untrue teachings such as the ones I mentioned about the historical nature of the Bible.

Our Bishop Patrick McGrath teaches there too. It's his institute. When he taught about the sacraments, he taught us another modern debunked theological speculation as fact: the Eucharist forgives mortal sins.

Last year Bishop McGrath wrote an open letter about The Passion of The Christ saying that Mel Gibson shouldn't have portrayed Christ's passion the way he did because the movie could be used to fan resentment against the Jews. To the objection that Gibson followed the Biblical texts, Bishop McGrath said that the stories in the Bible are "not historical accounts of the historical events that they narrate. They are theological reflections . . ."

See what I mean? Catholics according to the modern theorists don't have to believe the stories really happened the way they were depicted in the Bible because they are supposed to be "theological reflections," no more.

Fr. David Pettingill teaches ILM Scripture classes and he told us that the Vatican II documents support that interpretation, especially a document commonly referred to as Dei Verbum.

In frustration, I brought in the actual words from Dei Verbum to talk with him about how they contradict what he said, but I could not get a satisfactory explanation about how came to believe he could contradict what the words actually say. He said he didn't have time to waste trying to convince me of his points.

Humph! Even though the present American Church is big on dialogue, many individuals I've run into like Fr. Pettingill are not actually interested in dialoging with anyone who disagree with them.

Here is what Dei Verbum actually says:

Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold,
that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly
asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and
taught for their eternal salvation.

So there you have it. Dei Verbum says that the Church asserts the historical character of the Gospels and that the Gospels faithfully hand on what Christ really did and taught. But those who believe otherwise are somehow able to put a different gloss on those words. They don't hesitate to tell students the exact opposite.

Here is another example that gets me. One of the current theories about Deuteronomy that you'll also find written in the study guide to the New American Bible says that even though the Jews and Christians have always believed that Deuteronomy was written by Moses, modern theorists state Deuteronomy was written many years later when the Jews needed to be reminded of what God had done for them. These theorists believe they know better than Jesus Christ Himself, who stated that Deuteronomy was written by Moses.

My answer is that if my Lord and my God believed that Deuteronomy was written by Moses, that's all I need. I certainly trust Jesus a lot more than I would trust a theologian who is trying to build his reputation by putting a new twist on the old stories.

You know, I don't understand how anyone with any sense of how committees work could imagine that the Bible books could have been all written by committees. Nobody ever suspected the authorship by committee had occurred until theologians of the past two hundred years came up with that theory.

I have read many of the writings of theologians and I can say that they build one speculation on top of another. Just for laughs I remember one article in a respected journal theorizing that St. Paul was a Roman spy.

They don't come anywhere near the standards of scientific proof. But later writers build on top of the speculations of earlier ones to create huge edifices of speculation that don't have anywhere near the substance of the "deposit of the faith" that they often contradict.

For these and many other reasons, I would plead that we would be better off remaining ultra conservatives than try to build our faith upon a bunch of inspired fictions. I would rather trust St. Augustine and the early Church fathers and what the Church has taught for 2000 years before the Bible debunkers took over.


On Feb 5, 2005, at 9:37 AM _name_deleted_ wrote:

> This is a plea for Continuing Education in concert with our Carmelite vocation.
> For a Catholic to live in the world and experience our human condition
> it becomes immediately obvious that we are in a diverse and
> pluralistic society. The Catholic Church is within that context as
> well. One part of the definition of the Catholic Church is that we,
> the people, are the Church. As the Church we too are diverse and
> pluralistic. As Catholics we, in joy, believe the dogmas as stated to
> us and to be in good standing in the Church are required to believe.
> these dogmas are also doctrines of the Church. However, not all
> doctrines are dogma. The Dogmas as doctrine do not change, but
> doctrines that are not dogmas can change. An example of a dogma is,
> "The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus". It cannot and will not
> change. An example of a doctrine that is not a dogma is the fasting
> laws. They can change and, in fact, they have changed over the years.
> Quickly, an example of three more dogmas that have been defined are
> The Assumption! on of Mary into Heaven, The Immaculate Conception, and
> The Infallibility of the Pope. These beliefs cannot and will not
> change. Quickly, examples of three doctrines that are not dogma and
> therefore can change are, the celibacy of the priests in the
> western church, the Pope elected for life instead of having a
> retirement age, and the format of liturgical laws including the Mass.
> The reason I have written this is to make a plea for updated
> continuing education in the Catholic Faith and in particular the
> basics of our adult continuing education in every aspect. The
> motivation that has prompted me to suggest this is the recent
> discussions of Centering Prayer and the Sabbatine Privilege which I
> really don't think needed 1/10th of the ink they got.
> Certainly not from me. Some of the wording in some statements and
> resources from out of date documents surprised me in those
> discussions, e.g. "new theologies", a 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia
> resource of a particular outdated document, and several others. I
> stated that there are, "ultra conservatives" in the Church and some in this group. I was
> told that was uncharitable and I accept that
> admonition and I apologize. I was being overzealous in my statements
> because I am so adamant concerning continuing adult education and I
> saw a lack of that. However, that is not an excuse for my being
> overzealous nor uncharitable and I am sorry to all and especially to
> those that were offended.
> Again, I make a strong suggestion for us all to keep up to date with
> what the Church is teaching and things the Church taught in the past
> and is no longer teaching (Limbo, changes in the annulment process,
> the way in which Scripture is taught, etc., including our Carmelite
> Order Discalced Constitutions and our Secular Constitutions. In the
> sixteenth century the Council of Trent changed the way many things
> were done---------Well, in the Twentieth Century Vatican ll also
> changed the way many things are done but did not disturb much of what
> went before it. Those of you that went to Mass in the 1950's heard
> Mass celebrated in Latin and fasted from midnight before receiving
> Communion. Those that go to Mass now hear Mass in the language of
> their country and fast only one hour before Communion although Mass in
> Latin can and is still said at some place in most Dioceses. At this
> point I want to remind you that the reason for this e-mail is to
> suggest and strongly plea for continuing education and not think we
> have a new theology when a change takes place in doctrine that is not
> dogma. Nor to use documents that have been replaced by newer
> documents. Continuing education, to which we are called as secular
> members of the Carmelite Order Discalced, can help us tremendously in
> knowing what the current teaching of the Church and our Order
> contains. I ask you, when is the last time you have read and studied a
> History of The Church ? I ask you, when is the last time you
> researched a Biblical passage from a current Commentary? The study of
> the teachings of the Church is included in the study of our
> Carmelite History and Spirituality.
> I can write much more on this subject but I leave you with this. To
> those of you that read this-------I thank you. To those that I have
> offended, I apologize. May the Grace of the Holy Spirit descend upon
> you all and fill you with the Love Of Christ.
> _name_deleted_