Friday, July 30, 2010

Do Catholics really pray?

Last night I celebrated Mass with some classmates from high school. It’s been an annual event since I’ve been ordained. I am grateful to my mates from Gonzaga for doing this. It is so meaningful to us – especially me – to get together in the context of the Eucharist and then to catch up and reminisce over dinner and refreshments. Only a few guys showed up this year, but it was so good to be with them. After Mass, we went out to grab a bite. At dinner, one of the guys asked the Church’s position on contraception, specifically with regards to “snip-snip” (vasectomy). I replied with “no-no”. When I clarified what that meant and that the Church was against any form of contraception, I was peppered with questions and criticisms for the remainder of the meal, not surprisingly. It was a respectful and civil conversation, and these are good men (who have several children between them). There was mutual respect, but a clear disagreement on what the Church teaches regarding being open to life permanently.

My conversation with one of them continued later in the night. He heard my explanation of the family planning method (Natural Family Planning) the Church recommends and wondered how it differed from artificial contraception. I had explained at dinner (what a conversation for a mini high school reunion!) that NFP is the natural method by which a couple can gauge the woman’s fertility, based on her cycle. The couple is in conversation with each other and with God; if they discern that God is not calling them to have a child in a given month, then they would abstain from sex during her fertile period (4-5 days, typically). His argument was that NFP is similar to artificial contraception in that it attempts to avoid pregnancy and isn’t open to life.

He raised a couple of good questions. Isn’t the practice of abstaining during the fertile period in order to avoid pregnancy a contraceptive act? Isn’t abstaining during the fertile period preventing union between the husband and the wife? We talked about these specific questions for most of our time together and he revealed the practice of him and his wife in these areas. He is a deeply good man who gives himself so much to his wife, kids, and friends. He spoke truly and substantially about marriage, the importance of union with his wife, and how open to life he and his wife have been. He was talking to me in order to learn, for the most part. But, some comments he made revealed that no matter what I or the Church or God said, he wasn’t going to change.

I agreed with him that if NFP is used only to avoid pregnancy and is approached on a natural level only, then it is natural contraception. The second part of that condition is what I focused on the last part of our conversation. NFP is not to be on a natural level only; it is to be supernatural as well. It is meant to include God! It is meant to include prayer! This is a huge part of the method because it puts the couple under the heading of God’s Will. If they discern in their prayer that God is not calling them to have children in a given month (e.g., it would be irresponsible for them based on their resources), then they would abstain during the fertile period. This would be God’s Plan for them at that point; maybe His Plan will change for them in a few months. That is a far different approach than contraception because the couple is acting according to God’s Plan (NFP), and not their plan (contraception).

God doesn’t call every couple to have 100 babies and says through the Church that parents should be responsible in their family planning. In fact, the answer from God is much more often ‘no’ than ‘yes’ when it comes to couples conceiving children over the span of their marriages. The better way to put it would be “not right now” or “I have something better in mind”. These are often God’s answers to our prayers. Neither of these answers is worse than ‘yes’. If it is God’s answer (even though it is not our answer), then it is supremely good. If it is God’s Plan (even though it is not our plan), then it is supremely good.

If we combine the fact that God has given wives a natural method to determine their fertility and the fact that most months He is not calling couples to have a baby, then we see that abstaining during the fertile period can be God’s Plan. Again, it has to be done as a result of prayer in order to be in union with His Will. If it is from God, then it is good and can never be a sin. It doesn’t act against the union between husband and wife; it actually acts toward union! It involves a few days of sacrifice…a few days of sacrificial love. The husband and wife may not be uniting with their bodies, but they are uniting in love with their souls and spirits. Studies have found that couples who do this experience stronger intimacy when they reconnect in conjugal love. Also, studies have found that 96% of married couples that use NFP stay together.

The final point of all of this has to do with prayer. I don’t know if my buddy and his wife have been praying about all of this. But, it is an enormous part of the conversation. Without prayer, NFP can be natural contraception; it can be the couple doing their own will and not God’s. With prayer, it is a way to give glory and honor to God because it is putting everything in His hands, whatever that might be. On a larger level, though, last night’s conversations with my high school friends prompted some reflection on the disconnect between the Church and many Catholics. One of the main reasons for the disconnect might be prayer. At the heart of the Church and her mission is prayer. She has received and continues to receive God’s revelation in her mind and heart. His revelation is as real as anything in life and is of primary importance.

Do many Catholics approach God’s revelation (in public through Scripture and Tradition and in private through mental prayer and meditation) in the same way? Do Catholics really pray? I don’t just mean grace at meals or rote prayers. I mean do they really open their hearts and minds to what He is saying to them? Do they go to Mass regularly? Do they make time for mental prayer each day? Do they meditate on Scripture? Do they know the authority of the Church as entrusted by Christ himself?

If the answer were yes, then there wouldn’t be such a disconnect between Catholics and the Church, in my opinion. The Church would not be “out of touch” because people would be in touch with God and the Church. This is my opinion…what is yours?


Anonymous said...

I just saw this on AP:

Anne Rice has had a religious conversion: She's no longer a Christian.

The 68-year-old author wrote Wednesday on her Facebook page that she refuses to be "anti-gay ... anti-feminist," and "anti-artificial birth birth control."

She adds that "In the name of ... Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen."

Her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, confirmed Thursday that the posting was by Rice.

Rice is best known for "Interview with the Vampire" and other gothic novels. Raised as a Catholic, she had rejected the church early in her life, but renewed her faith in recent years and in 2008 released the memoir "Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession."

Anonymous said...

To clamor the truth through humor, does anybody out there remember the Alka Seltzer commercial and its clever jingle to the words, “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz…. Oh what a relief it is?” If we change the words to the jingle, I think the relationship between many Catholics and the church becomes pretty clear - “Snip, snip, no kids….. Oh what a relief it is.” Relief from what? From testosterone or Christ’s teachings? Living as a Catholic is not easy, especially in a society that prefers the self centered thinking offered on the ancient radio station stared by Adam and Eve, WIFM 98.6 – What’s in it for me.

Anonymous said...


You are indeed a priest! I don’t think many men would instinctively say, “no, no” to a vasectomy because of the church’s stance on birth control. No way, no how! I think most men would be thinking “no, no” because the “ouch, ouch” that comes along with the “snip, snip”. And, as they’re thinking about a vasectomy, their broad based stance slowly changes to one of retreat – hips slowly tilt backwards while the shoulders curve forward for balance. Meanwhile, the thighs and knees move inward and up in what must be an attempt to shield the magical wand from the danger that lurks in the conversation!