The Importance of Theology of the Body in the Year of Mercy #TOBtalk

Photo Copyright James Hrkach

Photo Copyright James Hrkach

To celebrate the Year of Mercy and to participate in #TOBtalk for the upcoming Theology of the Body Congress, I’m reposting this article from last year on practicing the spiritual works of mercy with a theology of the body focus. First, the question: Why is Theology of the Body important to you? I try to live my entire life according to Theology of the Body principles. As well, I reverted back to my Catholic faith through the teachings of the Theology of the Body even before I knew the term “Theology of the Body.” My then boyfriend (now husband, James) wanted us to wait until marriage to have sex and he also did not want us to use contraception. The contraception issue became our first major disagreement, with me arguing for contraception and James arguing against. He said things like “I don’t want there to be anything separating us when we consummate,” or “If we used contraception, there would be something separating us and I want sex to be between you, me and God. That’s all.” Incredibly, I decided to trust him and went along with his desire to not use contraception. Seeing the impact of following the Church’s teaching in this matter, I eventually became one of the biggest proponents of Natural Family Planning and Theology of the Body.

Living the teachings of the Theology of the Body has not only helped me to be closer to my husband and to God, living these beautiful teachings has also allowed me to be merciful and, in this way, follow the spiritual works of mercy more closely.

According to the Catholic encyclopedia, mercy is “a virtue influencing one’s will to have compassion for, and, if possible, to alleviate another’s misfortune.” The spiritual works of mercy are one way Catholics can show charity and compassion to others. Since my husband and I teach Natural Family Planning, we have always tried to practice the spiritual works of mercy through our NFP ministry. Many Catholics do not understand the Church’s teachings on sexuality. Mother Teresa once said, “If you judge someone, you have no time to love them,” Sharing the truth with charity and without judgment is extremely important.

Admonish the Sinner and Instruct the Ignorant
I often find myself in conversations about these intimate topics with acquaintances and relatives. For example, while I was attending a First Penance meeting with one of my sons, the instructor handed out a “Examination of Conscience” pamphlet. On page three, under “Thou Shall Not Kill,” sterilization was listed correctly as a mortal sin. The woman next to me gasped and whispered, “I thought the Church changed her teaching on this. I had my tubes tied and didn’t know it was wrong.” I then gently said, “The Church has never changed this teaching. Birth control and sterilization have always been considered mortal sins.” The woman glanced away, then turned back to me, tears in her eyes. I patted her shoulder, then said, “You know, if you didn’t realize it was wrong, then it’s not a mortal sin.” I pointed out the section in the “Examination of Conscience” pamphlet which stated that all three of these conditions need to be in place for mortal sin: it must be 1) serious matter, 2) the person must know it is serious and then 3) freely commit it. I strongly encouraged her to seek spiritual direction from a faithful priest. When she left the meeting, she thanked me.

Counsel the Doubtful and Comfort the Sorrowful
A few years ago, when we were speaking at the local marriage prep course on “Sexual Honesty Within Marriage,” we talked about the importance of keeping the marital embrace free, total, faithful and “fruitful.” During the last part of the talk, we explained that contraception removes the fruitful aspect from the marital act. All of a sudden, a young woman rushed out of the meeting room, in tears. James and I continued our talk while one of the other host couples followed her, but we were concerned. After the talk, I immediately went to speak to the woman. I learned that she was the mother of a 13-year-old daughter from a teenage relationship. The young woman shared that she was currently in remission from terminal cancer. Because of the aggressive treatment, her doctors told that she would not have any more children. She told me that it upset her to hear the suggestion that her marriage might not be “fruitful” since she and her fiancé would never have children. (Of course, we didn’t say that in our talk, but this is how she interpreted it). She admitted that she had mistakenly thought she had already dealt with the fact that she and her future husband would not be having children together. But our talk seemed to bring her sadness and regret to the surface. She then sobbed and I embraced her as she released emotions that had obviously been pent up for a while. When she stopped crying, I explained that fruitfulness was much more than giving birth to children. We discussed adoption. We talked about the fruitfulness of being a good example as well as other ways she and her husband could be ‘fruitful” in their marriage. After the course finished that evening, she came up to me, hugged me and thanked me for being so “kind.”

Bear Wrongs Patiently, Forgive all Injuries
Bearing wrongs patiently has never been something I have done well. And the following example shows that not everyone I “admonish” or “instruct” has been open to the information.

Ten years ago, a woman called for NFP counseling. She and her husband had taken an NFP class years earlier. Her husband, she said, had made an appointment for a vasectomy and he had indicated the decision was not up for debate. After using NFP for many years, he no longer had any patience for the abstinence it entailed. The wife sounded like she was crying. “What can I do to stop him?” she asked. I spoke with her, then sent her information on the moral, spiritual and physical implications of sterilization. I encouraged her to seek spiritual direction from a faithful priest I knew in the area. Four different times we spoke on the phone, her tone frantic and desperate. Finally, she stopped calling. I continued to pray for this couple. Some months later, she called to inform me that her husband had indeed gone through with the vasectomy and they were now ‘very happy.’ She wanted me to know that, although she knew I didn’t agree with ‘their’ decision, she had come to accept it and that it had been the ‘right’ thing for them.

Admittedly, I have no idea what happened in between her frantic calls and the vasectomy. I suspect she never called the faithful priest I recommended. However, I calmly responded, “But sterilization is against the fifth commandment as well as the sixth, it separates a couple…it causes an increase in prostate cancer, it – ” She cut me off by angrily telling me that she only called to inform me, not to hear what the Church teaches, that she already knew that. Her husband then got on the phone and yelled at me, his tone sharp, accusing me of trying to “sabotage” his marriage. I listened, heart pounding, as he screamed at me over the phone. It took a lot of self-control not to hang up nor respond to his verbal abuse. I prayed and waited until he stopped yelling, although by that point, I was nearly in tears and my hands were trembling. Then I said, my voice breaking, “I will pray for you and I wish you both well…goodbye.” My hands shaking, I hung up the phone and cried. I forgave them long ago for their verbal abuse, and I have prayed for them from time to time, but I’ve always wondered how they are doing.

Pray for the Living and the Dead
Prayer is so powerful, more powerful than any of us can ever imagine. Even if you’re not comfortable speaking up, you can always pray for anyone at anytime. Praying for others is an important part of the spiritual works of mercy. I pray daily that more couples can discover the joy of following the Church’s teachings on sexuality by learning NFP: to be chaste before marriage, to be generous and open to life within marriage. I pray for all the student couples to whom we have taught NFP over the years. I pray for the engaged couples who have listened to our testimony and talks at marriage prep courses. I offer up many prayers for relatives and friends who have chosen to lead alternate lifestyles, and those deceased ancestors and relatives who were not faithful to the Catholic Church’s beautiful teachings of sexuality.

Practicing the spiritual works of mercy through the Theology of the Body is an ideal way to show charity and compassion to others. And it’s an ideal way to celebrate more fully this beautiful Year of Mercy. It’s not always easy to do. However, I know that, for me, it is the right thing to do, even if the person or persons are not open to the message. The truth is, we never know when a seed of truth will be planted and someone will experience a change of heart.

#TOBtalk

Fasting: The Solution to Many Problems

Image from Fotolia

Image from Fotolia

My latest post at Catholic 365:

Wars, persecutions, terrorism, famine, greed, abortion, oppression, immorality, human trafficking, indifference, addictions, suicide, divorce: one need only look at the state of our world and at our own lives to know that there is a spiritual war going on, a battle between good and evil.

Many of us feel helpless. Some may even feel hopeless. We might ask, “What could an insignificant person like me do to combat the evil atrocities and immorality of the world today?”

There is something we can do! It’s a solution that might seem simple, but it’s an extremely powerful weapon against evil. That solution is fasting. Prayer and fasting as a team are very powerful weapons in own our spiritual battles as well as the spiritual warfare happening in the world. Jesus, the apostles, the saints, popes and many clerics have fasted and have urged others to do so.

Fasting opens our hearts to conversion and gives weight to our prayer intentions. Fasting strengthens us in resisting temptations and frees us from addictive behavior. Fasting promotes peace in our hearts and peace with one another. Fasting teaches us the difference between wanting and needing and reminds us of the plight of the poor. Fasting invites the Holy Spirit in to heal our hearts, our relationship with God and our relationship with others. The late Fr. Slavko Barbaric said, “Fasting will lead us to a new freedom of heart and mind.”

St. Jean Vianney said, “The devil is not greatly afraid of the discipline and other instruments of penance. That which beats him is the curtailment of one’s food, drink and sleep. There is nothing the devil fears more, consequently, nothing is more pleasing to God.” Satan hates fasting. Why? Because those who practice the regular self-denial of fasting increase in virtue and grow closer to Christ. Those who fast for others are generously denying themselves for others.

Lent is an ideal time to begin the penitential practice of fasting and self-denial. Scripture and Catholic tradition have always placed a great deal of emphasis on fasting and prayer. In the past 50 years, however, fasting has become less important to the modern day Catholic and many Catholics have become lazy in their faith. The self-denial of fasting is exactly the solution to the world’s problems and to our own eternal life.

Lent is a training ground, much like the 40 days fasting in the desert was training ground for Jesus, especially when He was tempted by Satan. During His time in the desert, Jesus was preparing to take up His own cross, to suffer a painful death, to redeem all mankind.

We all want to be prepared for eternal life. The penitential season of Lent with the self-denial of fasting can be our training ground and helps to prepare us for both our future crosses and for our eternal life. Fasting trains us in self-knowledge and is a key tool for mastery over one’s self.

Fasting allows us to help others, even strangers we’ve never met. It’s a generous, selfless act because when we fast and pray for someone in particular, fasting gives weight to our prayers for that person. Pope Francis said, “Fasting makes sense if it really chips away at our security and, as a consequence, benefits someone else, if it helps us cultivate the style of the good Samaritan, who bent down to his brother in need and took care of him.”

In Scripture, (Matthew 6) Jesus tells us how to pray, then immediately tells us to fast: When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.”

Jesus says, “When you fast,” not “if you fast.” Fasting and prayer are a team and are extremely powerful weapons against the evil one. “The disciples asked Jesus, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it (demon) out?’ He replied, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.’” Mark 9:27-29

Fasting is responsible for many miracles throughout history. One miracle happened in Hiroshima, Japan. Eight Jesuit German priests fasted and prayed the rosary daily before the Atomic bomb hit in August 1945. Their parish house was only eight houses away from the center of the atomic bomb blast. Although most people within a one-mile radius of the blast were either killed instantly or died afterwards from radiation poisoning, none of the priests suffered more than a scratch, and none of them ever experienced any after-effects of radiation. Doctors kept track of them for years and none of the priests ever suffered any ill effects. (To read about more fasting miracles, click here.)

Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea recently revealed his secret weapon for spiritual warfare: prayer and fasting. When he first became an archbishop, Cardinal Sarah made a commitment to do a three-day retreat every two months. During these retreats, he completely fasts from both food and water, and takes with him only the basic supplies for Mass, the Bible, and other spiritual reading. He says this has helped him “to recharge and return to the battle.” (source: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/issues/february-5th-2016/meet-the-cardinal-who-recharges-for-battle-by-fasting-from-food-and-water/) Of course, there’s nothing new about prayer and fasting: Jesus fasted and commanded his disciples to do the same. If an elderly cardinal can fast, then we all can fast.

Another high ranking cleric, Bishop Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix, has recommended fasting in his exhortation, “Into the Breach.” “Turning away from the passions of the flesh, Jesus rejected Satan’s offering of bread in the desert, and in the Sermon on the Mount, twice He instructs us to fast (Matthew 6:16). Notice that the Lord does not say “if you fast” but rather “when you fast.” Fasting is training in self-knowledge, a key weapon for mastery over oneself. If we do not have dominion over our passions, especially those for food and sex, we cannot possess ourselves and put the interests of others in front of our own.”

There are so many great reasons to fast, but prayer and fasting as tools for spiritual warfare is one of the most important. Lent is an ideal time to begin the regular practice of self-denial. For those who cannot fast from food (like the sick, pregnant and elderly), they can choose to fast from television, social networking and other pleasurable activities on fasting days.

Lent is a time of change and sacrifice. Fasting and prayer together is the solution to the spiritual warfare that is going on in the world and in our own lives. Remember that Satan, the father of lies, hates fasting.

Fasting is not an easy practice with our society’s current tendency to overindulge. However, if you can do penitential acts during Lent, if you can fast during Lent, then you can fast all year round!

For more information on how to get started with fasting, check out our website (http://livethefast.org) Always check with your physician before beginning any fasting routine.

To sign up for our free biweekly fasting newsletter, click here.

Live the Fast is a Roman Catholic Apostolate that is focused on bringing more awareness to the discipline of fasting by offering educational resources on prayer and fasting, a prayer community that will inspire one to live the fast and providing nutritious fasting breads. (Priests and religious receive fasting breads and resources free of charge.)

A Sea of God’s Mercy – Catherine Doherty

This is a beautiful reflection on God’s Mercy by Catherine Doherty which is so relevant during this Year of Mercy! Season of MercyThis excerpt is from her book “Season of Mercy,” published by Madonna House Publications:

I was praying and it came to me that Lent is a sort of sea of God’s mercy. In my imagination Lent was warm and quiet and inviting for us to swim in. If we did swim in it, we would be not only refreshed but cleansed, for God’s mercy cleanses as nothing else does.

Then I thought of our reticence. I don’t know if it is reticence or fear to really plunge into God’s mercy. We really want to be washed clean; we want to be forgiven. But these desires meet with something else inside. I say to myself that if I do enter into the sea of mercy I will be healed, and then I will be bound to practice what Christ preaches, his law of love, which is painful, so terribly painful. There by that sea I stand and think: If I seek mercy I have to dish out mercy; I have to be merciful to others.

What does it mean to be merciful to others? It means to open my own heart, like a little sea, for people to swim in.

If we stand before God’s mercy and drink of it, it will mean that the Our Father is a reality, and not just a prayer that I say. “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come…” We like that part and have no problem saying it.

But then we come to: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We shake our heads and say, “Yes, it’s Lent; it’s true we should be forgiving everybody.” But we don’t like trespassers. If strangers come to use our beaches we will say to ourselves: What are they doing here? Why do they come to our beach? It’s not easy to make of one’s heart a little sea of mercy for the other.

We should also be listening to God’s will. But we think: Wait a second! “Thy will.” What does that mean?

It means many things. For instance somebody is thinking of entering a convent and they say, “Well, I don’t know; I’m afraid. Maybe I won’t measure up.” Silly people! Of course they won’t measure up, but God will measure up for them. If he calls them, he’ll give them the grace. As we look at the will of God—to go to a convent or to marry or to just live in the world in the conditions of today, to submit oneself to somebody else—our hackles rise up against authority. To submit to the will of God would be to put our toe in the sea of God’s mercy.

Lent relentlessly moves on and shows us who we are—our true identity as Christians, what it means to be Christian.

The mercy that we must give to others includes that of standing up for the poor, the lonely, those who have no education and cannot stand up for themselves. It means to engage in what we call social justice on behalf of our sister and brother. That involves opening ourselves to being pushed around and crucified. This always happens to those who stand up for others. Do we want to go into the sea of God’s mercy, to be washed clean so that we begin to do the things of Christ?

What is this Lent all about? It is to go into some strange and incredible depths of ourself and there to meet the sea of God’s mercy and swim in it, having shed all garments, garments of selfishness and fear.

Take for instance the fear of ridicule. Christ said to St. Francis, “I want you to be the greatest fool that anyone ever saw.” Did you ever stop to think what an absolute foolishness Christ is? It borders on idiocy, not mental idiocy, but a sort of passionate foolishness. Just think of a human being letting himself be crucified for someone else—in this case for the world. How high can the foolishness of love go? How deep, how wide? That’s the foolishness he wants us to assume.

There was a little Franciscan brother, Juniper, who used to play see-saw with children; people thought it funny for a man to do that. He did it specifically so that people would ridicule him. Lots of saints went about being ridiculed. The Russian urodivoi—fools for Christ—loved to open themselves to ridicule. They wanted to play the fool to atone for those who call Christ a fool.

Those are extremes of people falling in love with God so totally that they desire ridicule. But what about us? Are we going to allow Lent to give us the Holy Spirit’s immense gift of fortitude? It is a gift that is little spoken of and is neglected. Fortitude is courage, the courage of our convictions. Christ said, “Who is not with me is against me.”

Lent is here to remind us that the mercy of God is ours, provided we embrace his law of love; provided we realize that it’s going to hurt, and hurt plenty, but that the very hurting will be a healing. That is the paradox of God, that while you hurt, you heal. That’s true healing.

The sea of his mercy is open before us. Lent definitely and inexorably leads us to it and makes us think about what it takes to swim in it. Lent also reminds us that each of our hearts can be a sea of mercy and forgiveness to others. This is a very great shortcut to God’s heart.

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