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Posts Tagged ‘marriage’

All this talk about young married couples has sent me on a trip down memory lane, back to the old days when my husband was naught but a boyish husband-to-be, and I was a blushing maiden of 22.  And by “maiden,” I mean I was 22.  Ah, yoot!

We did go to marriage preparation classes.  They were held by another couple in their comfortable home.  It was a little too comfortable, as I recall:  they installed me next to the fire in a rocking chair, and I damn near fell asleep every night as they droned on and on and on.  Maybe I missed the good parts while I was dreaming, but I don’t think so.  My husband reports pretty much the same thing as I remember.

There are, we learned, two components to a stable, successful, loving, happy, and holy marriage.  Are you ready?  Here they are:

1.  Keep the lines of communication open.

2.  Invest in gold.

Well, there you have it.  Boy, were we prepared for marriage then, let me tell you!

So, that was, let’s see, 1997.  To be honest, I’m a little amazed at how many people mentioned that NFP even came up in their marriage prep — last I heard, most Catholics aren’t even aware there is such a thing.  I would be very interested to hear what your marriage preparation was (or is) like, and what year it was  — and also what your parents’ or older siblings’ was like, if you know.  Did you hear anything useful?  Anything nutty?  Does it seem like things getting better, overall?  Or worse?  Or what?

And why don’t we have more gold around here?  I guess it’s a good thing they didn’t say anything about NFP — I clearly wasn’t paying attention anyway.

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When Catholics talk about NFP, someone always asks rather plaintively why the Church doesn’t just clear up all the confusion about what does and does not constitute a legitimate reason to avoid a pregnancy.  Why not just make a list:  on the right, good reasons for postponing a pregnancy; on the left, bad reasons?

Obviously we should still pray and try to discern God’s will for us — but why does it have to be so vague?  Why doesn’t the Church just give us a break and spell it out already?

Most of those who want more clarity are genuine seekers after God’s will, looking for more guidance as they discern the best path for their marriage.  Others are looking for a definitive document to prove that their neighbors are abusing NFP, using it with a “contraceptive mentality.”

The Church does, of course, give us guidelines (I’m shamelessly cribbing these citations from an excellent article my sister, Abigail Tardiff, wrote several years ago, addressing this same question much more pithily):

If therefore there are reasonable grounds for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that then marries people may take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and use their marriage at precisely those times that are infertile, and in this way control birth… (Humanae Vitae, n. 16).

and:

For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2368).

My sister also reminds us:

Pope Pius XII says that serious motives, such as “medical, eugenic, economic, and social” reasons, can exempt a couple from the obligation of bearing children (“Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives”).

But why doesn’t the Church give some specific examples of what qualifies as a just reason?  Well, one problem is that my just reason is not necessarily the same as your just reason.

For instance, we could say, “Severe economic instability is a good reason to postpone pregnancy.” But …

  • Woman A grew up deathly poor, and fully expected to die before she hit age 40.  Her husband is disabled and often out of work, and sometimes they have to scramble for the rent on their tiny house — but this is routine and tolerable for them, and causes no turmoil.  With help from friends and government programs, they are raising happy, healthy children on $25,000 a year.
  • Woman B grew up wealthy, has always generously endowed Crisis Pregnancy Centers in her town, and always hoped to have a large family of her own.  But a catastrophe struck, she went bankrupt, and has to sell everything and move into a tiny house and live on $25,000 a year.  They’re still reeling from the shock of what their life has become, and are trying to learn how to accept help, rather than giving it.
  • Woman C lives a tiny house and live on $25,000 a year, which her husband manages thriftily, so no one is deprived.  But she makes him sleep on the couch until he agrees to quit his job at the library  so he can make more money and they can catch up with their fancy friends next door, who go to Rio every March.
  • Woman D recently quit her high-paying job so she can stay home and have babies.  They now live on her husband’s salary of $25,ooo a year and can hardly wait to fill their tiny new house with children.

You see?  Objectively, the circumstances are the same, and “severe economic instability” describes all four.  But their attitude toward having another baby right then would be entirely different.  It’s not enough to say, “Lilies of the field and so on.  We must trust God.”  That’s not asking much from women A, but it’s asking heroism from woman B.

Or you could say, “You shouldn’t postpone a pregnancy just so you can lose a little weight.”

  • Woman A is healthy and beautiful, but is married to a man who berates her nightly for not fitting into the jeans she wore in high school, even though that was twenty years and five babies ago.  He has taught her to hate herself, and will torture her emotionally if she makes a charting mistake and gets pregnant.
  • Woman B preaches radical openness to life, but in her most honest moments will admit to herself that having lots of babies happens to be a fabulous excuse for never having to deal with her lifelong gluttony.  After all, she can’t diet, because she’s pregnant (or postpartum, or nursing…)
  • Woman C used to be anorexic, and with years of therapy and hard work has achieved a healthy weight.  But being even five pounds over that healthy weight puts her in danger of a relapse, and the idea of another pregnancy gives her panic attacks.
  • Woman D  is just a petty twit who wants to make her fatter friends feel bad when they see her hot new body.  No baby this year, not after all the money she put into lipo!

All four women are faced with Losing Weight vs. Having Another Baby; but the details couldn’t be more different.

Or you could say, “Just trust God with your fertility!  We’re not in control of our lives; God is.”

  • Woman A is fearful, anxious, rigid and domineering.  Her husband is a little bit afraid of her, and her confessor always urges her to trust God more.
  • Woman B is childish and weak, and tends to leave all the heavy thinking to her husband — and then feels sorry for herself when they suffer the consequences of his choices.  Their marriage is miserable, and her confessor always tells her to be more of an adult.
  • Woman C is careless and selfish and lacks self-control, and her confessor always tells her to use more prudence, take more responsibility.
  • Woman D tries with all her might to be as holy as the other women around  her, and she keeps having more babies to prove her trust in God, even though her household is out of control and her children are neglected.  Her confessor always tells her that God asks different things of different people, and to keep her eyes on her own work.

“Trusting God” is wonderful, but means something entirely different in each of these cases.

Or you could say, “A large family is a sign of God’s blessing.  You’ll never regret having another baby!”

  • Woman A always wanted a big family, and happily gives birth three times in the first three years of her marriage.  She looks forward to many more years of fertility.
  • Woman B always wanted a big family, but now that she has six children, and a few of them turned out to have special needs, she figures it would be a good thing to take a break.   She also wants to work out a few problems in her marriage that have been brewing unresolved under the chaos for a few years.
  • Woman C  always wanted a big family, and now has nine children.  She probably has another decade of fertility to go, and while she loves her kids dearly, she is just plain tired.  She and her husband are actually much more financially and emotionally stable than they were when they started their family — and yet the idea of another pregnancy fills her with dread.
  • Woman D always wanted a big family and is on the verge of menopause — and suddenly feels a deep yearning for just one more baby, for reasons that have nothing to do with the reasons she had twenty-five years ago on her honeymoon.

These women are, of course, all the same woman, at different stages in her life.  She has always trusted God, and God has blessed her in different ways at different times.  You see, you can’t even apply a specific, inflexible, objective rule to one woman:  there are still just too many variables.  For any specific, objective rule you laid down, you could find exceptions which are within the realm of normal human circumstances.

Can we ever say that we have an indisputably good reason, or an indisputably bad reason, for postponing a pregnancy?  Of course.  It’s just that I can’t think of anything more personal and private than these reasons.  I believe that if the Church ever did give a specific, objective list of legitimate reasons for avoiding or achieving pregnancy, it would cause more confusion, not less.  People with good reasons to postpone a pregnancy would doubt themselves, and people with no good reason would find loopholes. People would judge each other even more than they already do (which is a shameful amount), and it would distract from the soul’s conversation with God.

Yes, worldly, modernized couples need to hear someone say, “Marriage is for making children, and children are a privilege, not a burden.  Don’t squander the gift of your fertility, but seek the gifts that God is offering.” But I grow more and more skeptical of the charge that, among the tiny fraction of Catholics who use NFP, most use it with a “contraceptive mentality.”  How about this:  men who have seven or more children are probably raping their wives every  night.  What’s that you say?  It’s not like that at all?  Well, that’s how it looked from the outside.  It cuts both ways:  if you can read the hearts of couples with only a few children, then I can read the hearts of couples with many.  See how ugly that gets?  Only one Person knows what’s in another man’s heart, and that person ain’t you or me.

And for people who aren’t out to judge anyone else, but just want more clarity and guidance in their own lives, here’s a cheering quote from my sister’s article:

The Church’s moral teachings are a great gift, because they save us from the bad effects of innocent wrong-doings; they can stop us from unknowingly messing up our lives, if we’re humble enough to listen. But they don’t replace a tryst with the Creator — and who would want them to?

So if the Church seems distressingly vague, it’s because she doesn’t want to get in the way of the conversation you could be having with God.  He doesn’t want to talk to The Church as a whole:  He wants to talk to you.

And that’s why the Church doesn’t just make a list.

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Him:  I love you.

Me:  I love you, too.  But if you get me pregnant, I’ll stab you in the eye.

Him:  I have two.

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Why doesn’t the Latin Rite Church just start ordaining married men again? If men can’t or won’t stay celibate, then why force the issue?  Well, I peeked into the future, when married priests are commonplace, and this is what I heard in the pews:

“Well!  I see the pastor’s wife is pregnant again!  What is she trying to prove?  Must be nice to pop ‘em out year after year, while the parish has to support all those brats.”

or:

“Well!  I see another year has gone by and the pastor’s wife still isn’t pregnant.  A fine example they’re setting!  I won’t have them teaching my children CCD, since his own wife is clearly on the Pill.”

and:

“I went to the rectory the other day to talk to Father about my divorce, and those damn kids of his wouldn’t shut up for a minute.  Sounded like a herd of elephants running around up there — I couldn’t keep my thoughts straight.  How can he give me advice about my family when he can’t even control his own?”

or:

“I have to talk to someone about my kids, but I would never go to Father — his kids are so well-behaved, he could never understand what I’m going through.  I swear, his wife must drug them or something — something ain’t right there.”

and:

“I see the pastor’s kids are taking tennis lessons!  I guess they’re doing pretty well– no need for me to leave anything in the basket this week, when we’re barely getting by.”

or:

“I see the pastor’s kids are wearing such ratty shoes.  What a terrible example he sets!  No one’s going to want to join a church that encourages you to have more kids than you can care for.”

and:

“I wanted to meet with Father to talk about the new brochures for the pro-life committee, and his secretary said he was busy — but on the drive home, I saw him at the McDonald’s playground, just fooling around with his kids!  I guess I know where I stand in this parish!  Harumph.”

or:

“Everyone thinks it’s so great that Father started all these holy hours and processions and prayer groups, but I saw two of his little ones sitting all alone, just looking so sad and neglected.  It’s a shame that any children should grow up that way, without proper attention from their parents.  Harumph.”

And so on, and so on.  I’m sure you can think of more.   Imagine if his wife had a job?  Or imagine if she didn’t have a job?  Imagine if his wife wore jeans?  Imagine if she wore a veil? Imagine if he got an annulment, and then started a new family?  Would the parishioners pay for alimony or child support?  Imagine if the priest could get married, but was still single?  Is he gay, or impotent?  Is he hitting on me?  Is he hitting on my daughter? [As Abby pointed out, no rite has ever allowed already-ordained priests to marry, so this wouldn't be an issue!]

I’m paraphrasing here, but I remember a pathetic prayer uttered by the semi-fictional Don Camillo:  “Please, merciful Lord, if I have to blow my nose while I’m up at the altar, let me do it in a way that doesn’t offend anyone.”

And it wouldn’t just be a matter of doing the right thing and shrugging off unjust gossip — it would be so hard to know what is the right thing to do.  I see how my husband struggles to work hard at his job,  make enough money, and strategize for the future, because we’re all depending on him — and then comes home and puts it all aside to become the sympathetic and appreciative husband and the strong but playful dad.  And he only has one family.

It’s hard enough for men to balance family and career — what if, as priests, they had to balance their biological family with a spiritual family of parishioners?  Whose needs come first?

And did I mention?  The average American Catholic diocesan priest makes between $15-30,000 a year.

Look, I know there are some families that could  hack it.   There are some that do, and I’m sure there are some that do very well, especially if the parish is close-knit and conservative, with a long, comfortable tradition of married priests.  And I know we’re likely to see more married priests soon, since our beloved (and thrilling!) Benedict XVI has so warmly welcomed the Anglicans in.

How’s it going to go?  I don’t know.  I’m not saying it’s a bad idea; I’m just saying it’s not the no-brainer heal-all for anemic numbers in the seminaries. All the hypothetical nasty comments above are things that people say about decent, hard-working, LAY Catholic couples with private lives.  Other people have no business judging them — and yet they do, all the time.  How much worse would this gossip (and the attendant protest via empty collections basket and empty pews) be if the couple in question had much less claim to a private life?  Parishioners tend to feel like they “own” their pastors.  This can take the form of befriending and loving him, making him meals, and praying for him — but it can also take some uglier forms.  I cannot imagine enduring such scrutiny as a pastor’s wife or child, especially without the graces of Holy Orders that help a priest survive his daily ordeal.

And oh dear —  I was about to ask Priest’s Wife to weigh in, and now I see that she wrote about this last week!  Check it out, and also her fascinating follow-up post on celibacy and selfishness.  She was originally responding to a post by Fr. Z, which frankly I cannot make myself read.  The commentors he attracts always make me want to hide in the catacombs, to get away from those awful Catholics.  Brrr.

Well, next time, we’ll discuss why – sigh – women priests are such a bad idea.

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Today’s post was written by “Pansy” for her blog, Pansy and Peony — and she graciously allowed me to re-post it here today.  Pansy is a young and lovely mother of seven, who discovered a year ago that her husband was having an affair.  She wrote to readers for prayers, and has this grateful update.

I was going to edit it for length, but it’s a fairly quick read, and I think you will appreciate her candor and her expressive language.  I found this essay moving and, frankly, fascinating.
Please note:  this essay was written by a real person who has clearly been through enough.  Comments criticizing her actions will be deleted immediately.

UPDATE:  A link to this post also went up on Mark Shea’s blog.
————————-
It’s been nearly one year since I posted this. I was thinking of waiting for the one year mark, mostly because I just didn’t know what to say or how to say it. I also wasn’t sure in my heart until pretty recently that it’s all going to be alright, so I didn’t want to jinx anything. Also, something about the whole St. Blog’s Pantsapalooza Event of 2010 made me think here I am actually in possession of some knowledge I should perhaps pass on. In many of the comboxes, in between the yays and nays for pants, there would be talk here and there of not one, but of few couples someone might know, Catholics with large families, breaking up. I stumbled the other day on a statistic that only 1/3 of couples survive infidelity. I cannot even begin to understand why us. I have no idea, except God allowed, chose, helped…He did it. So I guess it was time to write…something. I hope it’s not lame.

As of now, we are surviving, we are building a new marriage and our old marriage is dead and gone. It’s is withered and decayed and the new one is bright and filled with hope. As of right now, I love my husband more than I ever have. We are not merely “riding it out”. Everything is new again. I place the “blame” on you, Dear People. When this broke, my husband was very lost. He will tell you he was in the darkest place he has ever been. He was evil or surrounded by evil, not sure. He was depressed, he obviously wasn’t thinking straight and the more he made bad choices, the worse he felt, and in turn would make more bad choices. He was just piling more “spiritual muck” onto himself. As Mark Shea says “sin makes you stupid”. So many men I see who take the route my husband have become literally unreachable under all that muck. When you all reached out and prayed, my husband will tell you it was around that time he started to wake up and come out the fog. This wasn’t an immediate process and at first, he fought it, but it was a way for God to grab him and take hold and slowly start clearing that muck away.

I cannot underestimate the practical help as well, the donations, the words of encouragement. I was…hysterical. I was scared, confused. At the time, the kind words I read and the support kept me going. I desperately needed it because while I was receiving support here, I was hearing equally…um, “non-supportive” words from some of the icky people my husband allowed to influence him. One of his family members told me it was my fault because I had so many kids. Seven is ridiculous, I should have stopped at three and my husband clearly didn’t want any more but I refused to listen. I must have had those kids to keep him around. She, other family, the girlfriend all told me it was because I “was a bad wife”. So yes, hearing encouraging words was necessary at that point because I didn’t know what was right, what was happening, what was real and my self-esteem struck a huge blow so it was easy to believe I deserved it all for doing things like having children, and being a boring housewife.

The donations helped in more ways than the obvious as well. My husband left and came home in February. Yes, he did support us, but in his very “rational” state, he did not think about what it costs to support a family of 8 in one spot and the cost of supporting himself in the New York City area 3 hours away prior to leaving. The donations helped with practical matters, but it also gave me a great deal of confidence that some how, some way, if things go badly, I’ll make it. I think it also sent a signal to him that despite surrounding himself with nitwits like the family members I described who had his ear, most people looked down on his actions to the point they were willing to donate money! (Incidentally, when this happened, I became adept at finding email accounts, decoding passwords and an ex girlfriend came out the woodwork who had been lurking on this blog to congratulate him on finally getting rid of the “old ball and chain”, to tell him to contact her and to let him know “do you know she’s asking for donations?” I deleted it.)

There has been talk that maybe people should not say bad things about Bud McFarlane Jr for leaving his wife in the comboxes lately. No. He should know that the general population looks down on such actions. Admonish the sinner. It’s not simply for the sake of “siding” with Bai, but for the sake of his own soul. My husband, on his own accord went to confession, and spent an half hour bringing the priest up to speed. Mass that day, ended up starting late because of it. I’m not sure if that would have happened if things did not play out the way they did. Every piece of this had it’s purpose.

So what happened? I cannot even begin to start, it would take a book. It was the hardest year of my life. I now have grey hair, crows feet. I have these permanent bags under my eyes from crying everyday (great product: ).

I can say that this was a spiritual battle for sure. At first our progress was teeny tiny baby steps and a lot of uncertainty. It wasn’t until late June that I decided I would stay married to him. Before that, I don’t think he was certain about staying married to me until February-when he decided he wanted the marriage, I was sick, fed up, done with him. Since June, the progress was slow and then started snowballing. Spiritually, each time we made a large step at progress, Satan was right there with a rebuttal. Every stinking time. This is still the case. It’s almost immediate. We actually can see it for what it is and more and more it gives me the confidence that we are “meant to be”. The only way things will continue to work from here on out is relying on prayer and the sacraments. Satan has a foothold in our lives. No way around that.

I want to share some things I learned for anyone going through this:
1. Pray, pray, pray. You have nothing else but God. I made the Novena to the 13 Blessed Souls a few times, the St. Rita I don’t know how many times. Our Lady Undoer of Knots, St. Jude, St. Joseph the Flying Novena to the Infant of Prague in addtion to tons of rosaries, Chaplets of Divine Mercy, the Angelus everyday for months. I said a Magnificat every time it popped into my head. I don’t even know how many novenas I made. I begged for prayers. I debated a lot between telling people and asking for prayers and keeping my dirty laundry to myself. It’s a tough call because people who love you and see you suffer will not want you to reconcile with your spouse, which is 150% completely understandable. Still, I think the reason my husband turned around was the prayers.

There will be times when you will doubt if God even exists. Pray harder then.

2. Read Love Must Be Tough by James Dobson. And/or implement the “180” as soon as possible. This will keep your head on straight when you think you are loosing it, and may help get your marriage back-if that is what you wish.
On a side note: we Catholics do a good job in having a preliminary outline how to keep a marriage Godly. We do not have a lot of resources to turn to when things go bad. we have Retrouvaille, but that works only after both parties decide to work it out. There is nothing to stop a man (or woman) in stuck in “the fog” dead in his tracks and let him know what he’s doing. We need something. Now. Maybe Greg can help us with that?

3. Take care of yourself. I did a little, but only after everyone else was tended to. I would only work-out as reward if I finished all my chores, which of course, were never finished. I figured once the kids were gown and out, I’d have “me” time again. Through all this I was tired, defeated, depressed. I started drinking. By most people’s standards, not heavily, but I know I wasn’t doing it “for the right reasons”. So instead, I knew I needed an outlet and it would either be negative (drinking) or positive. I hit the gym, I started getting pedicure, I actually bought clothes for myself, I decided to try once a week and get to a restaurant if I could. Being cheated on is a huge self-esteem killer. People stopping you constantly and telling you how good you look, and then finding out you had seven kids, and in front of your husband…priceless!

4. Sacramentals. I said before this is a spiritual battles. Holy water, blessed oil, blessed salt. I mixed all three up and made crosses with it over every window, every doorway. I spiked my husband’s food…

5. Get support from people who have been through this. People who have been through this have a very unique perspective. It all seems very black and white, cut and dry until it happens to you.

7. Outside professional help. Get counseling/therapy. Find a priest or a few and talk to them. Appraise your medical doctors, midwives, pediatricians what’s going on. My family practitioner knows everything. I have found myself in the emergency room a number of times this year and since my doctor knows what is happening in my life, diagnosing the problems was easy. Did anyone know that you could have panic attacks in your stomach? I didn’t.

6. Some good books:
Love Must Be Tough by James Dobson
Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs
The Love Dare
Here’s one I haven’t read, but I want to read desperately:
Transcending Post-infidelity Stress Disorder (PISD): The Six Stages of Healing by Dennic C. Ortman
The Bible!!!! This is nothing new and it’s nothing the good book didn’t warn about. Read Proverbs 5

Websites:
Marriage Builders
Surviving Infidelity
Four Stages of Grief (apparently, I’m at “anger” right now).

Lastly, I’m talking mostly about me here. I’m talking a lot about what my husband did wrong. I give a lot of credit for the prayers and help people gave me, but I have to also give credit to my husband. It takes a lot to totally admit you are wrong and to allow God to break you down and build you back up again into a new person. I have not made it easy. Yes I prayed, yes I tried to stay “right”, but I haven’t been a saint on this journey. I’ve been downright evil and wretched at times. The fact that he stayed when he was unsure if he should to begin with, when he was not raised with a background where people are married is simply amazing. The fact that not only did he decide to stay, but change, that he recognized his bad choices were not the key to happiness…many people can’t or do not even know how to not exist in their lies.

7 In the same way, I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner repenting than over ninety-nine upright people who have no need of repentance. ~Luke 15:7

Once again, thank you, thank you, thank you.

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