Marriage: One Man, One Woman: A Noble Purpose

Copyright James and Ellen Hrkach, please do not use without permission

Copyright James and Ellen Hrkach, please do not use without permission

“Blessed are you,
O God of our fathers;
praised be your name
forever and ever.
Let the heavens and
all your creation
praise you forever.
“You made Adam and
you gave him his wife Eve
to be his help and support;
and from these two
the human race descended.
You said,
“It is not good for the man to be alone;
Let us make him a partner like himself”
Now, Lord, you know that I take this
wife of mine, not because of lust,
but for a noble purpose.
Call down your mercy on me and on her,
and allow us to live together to a happy old age.”
Tobit 8:7

This beautiful prayer was the second reading of our Nuptial Mass in 1982 when my husband and I were married. When I first read these words many years ago, they affected me deeply, especially when I learned the history of why Tobias said this prayer. After losing seven husbands before she could consummate her union with them, Sarah entered into marriage with Tobias. Tobias knew the history and understood that he could die if he married her. But he trusted God, recited the above prayer fervently and went on to a happy marriage with Sarah.

Nowadays, many Catholic couples live together or are sexually active before marriage. Same sex marriage is now legal in the United States (as it has been for ten years here in Canada). As much as cohabiting and same sex couples may desire to love one another – and most, I’m certain, really do feel love and affection towards the other – they cannot love each other in the way they are called to: freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully, truly loving as God loves. Sexual relations are meant to be the renewal of a couple’s marriage vows. If there is no marriage, there are no vows and there can be no renewal.

Essentially, pre-marital sex, contracepted sex and sex between two people of the same gender are all lies.

“God help us to love each other freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully. Help us to love and not to lust.”

For more information about the Theology of the Body:
http://thetheologyofthebody.com

For more information on NFP:
www.ccli.org
www.woomb.org
www.creightonmodel.com

 

Copyright 2017 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Image and Likeness Now Available!

Image and Likeness: Short Reads Reflecting the Theology of the Body, with a foreword by Damon OwensImage and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body is now available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon. This anthology is edited by Erin McCole Cupp and myself and both of us have stories included in the collection.

If St. John Paul II ever summarized his Theology of the Body, it may have been when he said, “Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” But how does this sincere gift look when lived out by human beings with all their failings? What happens to our humanity when we withhold that sincere gift? What does life require of us when we give most deeply?

Full Quiver Publishing brings you this moving collection of poetry and prose, featuring some of today’s brightest Catholic literary voices, including award-winning authors Dena Hunt, Arthur Powers, Michelle Buckman, Leslie Lynch, Theresa Linden, and many more. By turns edgy and sweet, gritty and deft, but always courageous and honest, the works contained in Image and Likeness explore countless facets of human love—and human failure. Readers of Image and Likeness will experience in a variety of ways how humanity, in flesh as well as spirit, lives out the image and likeness of a God who created human intimacy to bring forth both our future and to illustrate our ultimate meaning as human persons.

With a Foreword by international Theology of the Body voice Damon Owens, Image and Likeness puts life and breath into St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in ways that readers won’t soon forget.

Warning: mature themes, content and language.

Reviews:

Barb writes: “What, exactly, are “literary reflections on the Theology of the Body?” They’re stories and poems about how we live, and how we live our lives in relationship with each other, with our bodies, with our souls, and with God. It’s not some complicated, esoteric subject. Because it’s an anthology, there’s something for everyone, from detective stories to poetry to tales of family life that range from the harrowing to the uplifting. These stories and poems are about life. Like life, they are not always neat and tidy and packaged in a pretty box with a crisply-tied ribbon. I’ve come to expect just this from other work from Full Quiver Publishing: this publisher does not shy away from difficult subjects and situations in its commitment to promoting the culture of life and the Church’s teaching on marriage and family.”

An Open Book Family says: “Recommended for reading, reflection, discussion, and even entertainment. A gritty but beautiful introduction not only to the Theology of the Body as it is lived (or rejected), but also to the breadth and promise of Catholic fiction being written by contemporary authors. These shorts are accessible to any careful reader, whether familiar with the Theology of the Body or not.”

Readers can buy the paperback book on Amazon at this link.

It’s available on Kindle at this link.

Feast of the Holy Rosary – Prayers of Love

photo copyright Ellen Hrkach

photo copyright Ellen Hrkach

Since today is the Feast of the Holy Rosary, I’d like to share an article I wrote and that has also been published on Catholic 365. “When lovers are together, they spend hours and hours repeating the same thing: I love you! What is missing in the people who think the Rosary monotonous, is Love.” Sister Lucia of Fatima

I have been a Catholic for my entire life, but it is only in the last 30 or so years that I have had a devotion to the Holy Rosary. I attended Catholic schools until seventh grade. As a teenager, I would have identified myself as Catholic, but between television and secular influences, I didn’t totally embrace my faith until after I was married. This was only because my husband insisted that we refrain from using contraception during our marriage.

As we dialogued back and forth in those few months before our wedding day, I didn’t know or understand why the Church taught that married couples shouldn’t use contraception to avoid pregnancy. In fact, I remember thinking that the Church just ought to come out of the Dark Ages and get more in line with the modern world.

In the end, however, I decided to trust my husband (and the Church). In the next year, we read Humanae Vitae, as well as other church documents, and I became fully convinced that the Church was indeed speaking the truth when she declared that contraception was a grave sin. Before we were married, we learned Natural Family Planning and we are now a CCL NFP Teaching Couple Specialist (and have been teaching NFP for 33 years).

During that first year of our marriage, a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to our door. My husband and I welcomed them and dialogued with them. Most of their questions centered on Mary: “Why do Catholics worship Mary?” “Why do you say such a monotonous repetitive prayer?” “Why is Mary so important to Catholics?” First, we gently explained to them that Catholics don’t worship Mary; we honor her. As for the other questions, I realized that I didn’t really know the answers, so I did some research.

To the question “Why is Mary so important to Catholics,” what I found out could probably fill an entire book. However, my own thumbnail answer is this: Jesus honored his mother. We, as Catholics, are called imitate Christ. He honored his mother and we should do the same. Also, as Jesus hung on the cross, He gave his mother to the whole world when He said to John, “Behold your mother.”

Mary is indeed our mother and, as our mother, she desires us to be closer to her Son. The Rosary is the ideal way for us to become closer to Him, because as we say the repetitive prayers (with love), we are meditating on His life.

I have found that saying the Rosary has brought me closer to my husband and to Christ. Even after 34 years of marriage, we continue to say “I love you,” just as we continue to say the rosary together, with love.

Copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach

I Was Blind, But Now I See #TOBtalk

rocks and water hrkachMy latest post at Catholic Mom.com:

When I was eight years old, I had no idea that what my eyes were seeing was, in actuality, a huge blur. Even my parents didn’t realize that I needed glasses. Because my eyesight had gotten worse so gradually, no one knew that I could not see well until the religious sisters at school sent a note home to my parents indicating that I should have my eyes checked.

There were hints, of course, that neither my parents nor myself noticed. I used to watch TV basically within an inch or so of the TV. When I read, the book was on top of my face. However, according to my mom, she never noticed me squinting. Again, I thought what I was seeing was normal and didn’t realize I couldn’t see clearly.

My mother eventually took me to an optometrist in downtown Philly to have my eyes tested, then we ordered glasses. I could not suspect how much my life would change with that small pair of (ugly) glasses. When we returned to Philly to pick them up, the elderly optometrist put me on a booster seat in the chair, took out the glasses and put them on my face. My eyes widened and my mouth fell open. I gasped. I could see every detail and every letter of every word in that office. I could see across the street. I remember the wide smile the optometrist had on his face as I was pointing out everything I could see.

On our way home, I kept pointing to everything. “Look, Mommy, I can see the Horn and Hardart’s sign! I can see that store says “Lit Brothers! I can see that pretty dress in the window over there!” Colors were brighter; it even seemed like I could hear better now that I could see so clearly. I was still in awe that night when I could watch Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In from 20 feet away and still see everything clearly. To me, it was nothing short of a miracle.

In the years following, although I went to Catholic school, my family had begun to fall away from the regular practice of going to Mass and I began learning my morals from television.

Fast-forward to 1979. I had visited my pen-pal in Canada and met my husband through her brother at a rock band jam session. We fell in “like at first sight” and began a long-distance relationship with me in NJ and him in Canada. However, when we were together, things usually got pretty intense, given that we rarely saw each other. I wanted to enter into a sexual relationship, but thankfully James had a pretty strong Catholic grounding so he kept us from going farther than we should. Three years later, when we were engaged and about to be married, it was James (age 19) who insisted that we use Natural Family Planning (NFP) and not artificial birth control. I saw no moral reason why we shouldn’t use artificial birth control, but he remained adamant. “I would rather have sex once a month without birth control than use birth control and have sex every day.” I remember thinking, “What planet is he from?”

However, as we communicated through letters (back in the early ’80s there was no free long distance, no texts, no SnapChat, no Facebook, no Instant Messaging, no Skype, no Facetime, no Instagram or any other instant communication), I realized this was no ordinary young man. The advantage of writing with snail mail letters is that we were able to take time and reflect on what we wanted to say. It became obvious that contraception was something that James was not willing to budge on. When he said, “Ellie, trust me and trust God,” I said say yes and agreed to go to an NFP class with him. I learned that NFP works in this way: a couple charts the woman’s signs of fertility and infertility. If they are avoiding pregnancy, they abstain from relations when the woman is fertile.

One thing we both agreed on and that was that we should wait for a few years to have children since James was only in his first year of college. A few days before our wedding, we realized that I would be right in the middle of the fertile time, which meant that our consummation would have to wait until a week or so after the wedding. After waiting three years, I was resentful. I went along with NFP, but was not happy about it. NFP seemed like a burden, not a gift.

A few months into our marriage on an evening that would be the beginning of Phase III (the infertile time), we had a romantic dinner and a beautiful evening of intimacy after a period of abstinence. All of a sudden, as I was lying in bed later that night, I realized that James and I were truly one, physically and spiritually, with nothing separating us: no pills, devices, no chemicals, no surgeries. With each act of marital intimacy, I felt as if we were renewing our marriage vows with our bodies.

That evening (and many others to follow) truly felt like another honeymoon night. Until that moment, I went along with NFP to please James. I wasn’t enthusiastic about abstaining. But when that light bulb moment hit, I realized what a beautiful gift NFP is, despite its challenges. Not only that, but I realized what a great gift it was to us that we had not had intercourse until marriage. “I was blind, but now I see.” NFP became glasses for my soul, and the reasons for NFP became much clearer to me.

From then on, I became a big promoter of chastity before marriage and a loud and enthusiastic proponent of NFP. In the grocery store, dentist’s office, anywhere that someone would listen, I would tell people about NFP, just like the time I got my new glasses: “Look, NFP has no side effects!” “Look, NFP means a couple can be truly one when they are making love!” “Look, NFP doesn’t harm fertility!” “Wow, NFP is 99% effective when a couple has serious reasons to avoid pregnancy and can even be used to achieve a much-wanted pregnancy!”

For me, without NFP, our marital union would have existed in a blur. With NFP, our marital union is clearer and more meaningful. NFP truly is like a pair of glasses for the soul.  NFP has been nothing short of a miracle for our marriage. Does it mean there have never been problems or that I’ve never resented the abstinence? Of course not.  But NFP truly is a marriage builder, one that I can honestly say has been the main reason that the romance, intimacy and closeness has remained even after 34 years of marriage.

1968, with my new glasses

1968, with my new glasses

Copyright 2016 Ellen Gable Hrkach

NFP Humor – #NFPAwarenessWeek

2016-english-poster-final-470w

It’s NFP Awareness Week!  To celebrate, this is an all cartoon post!

 

Image copyright 2013 James and Ellen Hrkach (Please do not use without permission)

Image copyright 2013 James and Ellen Hrkach (Please do not use without permission)

copyright 2013 James and Ellen Hrkach (Please do not use without permission)

copyright 2013 James and Ellen Hrkach (Please do not use without permission)

Image copyright James and Ellen Hrkach

Image copyright James and Ellen Hrkach

Intimate Sharing

Cartoon copyright James & Ellen Hrkach/Full Quiver Publishing

Cartoon copyright James & Ellen Hrkach/Full Quiver Publishing

Image copyright James and Ellen Hrkach Please do not use without permission

Image copyright James and Ellen Hrkach Please do not use without permission

 

Copyright James and Ellen Hrkach PLEASE DO NOT USE WITHOUT PERMISSION

Copyright James and Ellen Hrkach PLEASE DO NOT USE WITHOUT PERMISSION

 

Copyright James and Ellen Hrkach Please do not use without permission

Copyright James and Ellen Hrkach Please do not use without permission

 

image copyright 2011 James & Ellen Hrkach Please do not use without permission

image copyright 2011 James & Ellen Hrkach Please do not use without permission

All images are copyright by James and Ellen Hrkach. Please do not use without permission.

Living a Holy Sexuality Through the Theology of the Body #tobtalk

Photo courtesy KJ

Photo courtesy KJ

My latest post for Catholic Mom is entitled “Living a Holy Sexuality Through the Theology of the Body.”

Marriage is a holy vocation that leads to the creation of life and family, an essential way of spreading the Catholic faith and of attaining holiness.

Taking the four components of God’s love for us (free, total, faithful, fruitful) and comparing them to marital love, we can discover how we can live the sacrament of matrimony as a vocation in the most free, total, faithful and fruitful way, the ultimate expression of not only God’s love for us, but in our love for our spouses. We can discover how we can best express and preserve our Marital Unity.

Free: We need to be able to give our love freely to our spouse.  If we ask for conditions, like… I’ll love you IF, then that’s not love.  If we force our spouse to do something, that’s not love.  If we cannot control our passions, if we cannot say no to our sexual urges, then we are not free.  If we cannot say no, our yes means nothing.

Total: The love for our spouse must be total.  We can’t say, “Well, I’ll give you everything, honey, except for my arm or except for my leg.”  Everything means everything.  Total means total.

In the CCCC, 1643, says: “Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all of the elements of the person enter – appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility. In a word it is a question of the normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love, but with a new significance, which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values.”  Sex is holy, but the world doesn’t see it that way.

Faithful: We must be faithful to our spouse.  Obviously, we must only have sexual intercourse with our spouse and no other.  However, adultery is not the only way we can be unfaithful to our spouse. Indulging in fantasies, pornography of any kind and flirting all offend the sixth commandment. If we want to be truly faithful to our spouse, we must be faithful in word, action, and thought.

Fruitful: We must allow relations with our spouse to be fruitful – to be open to children – each and every time we have sex, whether or not we are planning a child.  That doesn’t mean we will conceive a child with every marital embrace.  It also doesn’t mean that we must try to get pregnant each and every time we have relations. It just means that we need to be open. Natural Family Planning allows a couple to avoid pregnancy and still be open to the possibility of pregnancy.

Artificial contraception, in fact, destroys all four of the essential components (Free, total, faithful, fruitful). Birth control violates not only God’s plan (because it does not image God’s fruitfulness) but it also destroys a couple’s marital unity, encourages an “I can’t say no” mentality to sex. When a device, medication is used or an operation has taken place to purposefully remove fertility permanently, a couple cannot give themselves totally, no matter how much they love each other.  (This does not include couples who have regretted and repented, nor does this include couples who have lost their fertility through no fault of their own).

Contraception also does not allow a couple to totally give of themselves to each other. You can’t say, “I give all of myself to my spouse – except my fertility.” That means you’re not giving your total self. Contraception destroys marital unity by separating the couple physically. Natural Family Planning preserves it.

Living a holy sexuality through the Theology of the Body is not always easy.  But I can say from experience, it is most definitely worth it.

For more information on Natural Family Planning:

The Couple to Couple League

Billings Ovulation

Creighton Model

Copyright 2016 Ellen Gable Hrkach