Monthly Archives: June, 2015

My Thoughts for Pope Francis, Part Seven: Open to Life


Intro | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven

My last installment of this series was in January, but just like I said then, I am not a quitter! I maintain that you do not “need a theology degree” to be able to express your opinions about marriage and family life in relationship to evangelization and the Gospel. I have never been married, but I grew up in a family. I don’t work for the Church anymore, but I evangelize, and I know the Gospel. The questions take some effort to dig into, but if you made it out of high school without learning to read and think critically, American public education is worse off than we thought.

As always, I invite comments, questions, and responses on your own blog (if you have one). We can disagree charitably, right?

The Openness of the Married Couple to Life

a.k.a. What Happens When People Don’t Read

What knowledge do Christians have today of the teachings of Humanae Vitae on responsible parenthood? Are they aware of how morally to evaluate the different methods of family planning? Could any insights be suggested in this regard pastorally?

I wish more people (Catholics especially) would actually read Humanae Vitae. It’s free. It’s been out since the 60’s. As far as encyclicals go, it’s tiny: about eight pages, including footnotes (so really six and a half). Contrast that with Laudato Si’, which is over 180 pages. You do have to get past the “royal we,” but you are rewarded with actual Church teaching. Not hearsay. Not Christopher West (because some people really dislike his style). Not the rich but dense speeches from St. John Paul II that make up the core text of the Theology of the Body.

But I would say that most Catholics have never read Humanae Vitae, even if they have heard of it. I heard a homily on its anniversary once, given by a youngish Dominican priest. I hear references to it in just about every discussion of Church teaching on marriage, children, and sexuality. Yet talking about it is no more like reading it than seeing a photo of the Grand Canyon is like being there.

So, no, I do not think Christians are aware that there is a moral aspect to family planning, and they are wholly unaware of the details in Humanae Vitae. I can think of two notable examples of women whose minds were changed when they first considered family planning a moral issue: Kimberly Hahn and Jen Fulwiler.

Kimberly Hahn, wife of well-known Catholic convert and theologian Scott Hahn, shares her story in their book Rome Sweet Home. When she and Scott were in Bible college, she led a study group in researching the historical Christian teachings on contraception and family planning. She had always assumed that every church except the Catholic Church supported it. Discovering the truth shocked her.

Jen Fulwiler, also a well-known Catholic convert, explained that when she brainstormed a list of conditions under which it would be a good idea to have sex and conditions under which it would be a good idea to have a child, they were completely different. Yet that is a modern separation. They used to be the same list. When you’ve separated out marriage from children, of course contraception seems like a basic human right. That was never supposed to happen, though.

Both of their conclusions are underscored in Humanae Vitae. We’ve got to get that actual text in front of more eyeballs! Women’s, men’s, young adult, and marriage enrichment groups would be ideal audiences.

Is this moral teaching accepted? What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couples’ accepting this teaching?

The teaching is not broadly accepted, but it’s publicly accepted by more people than before. It’s slowly becoming more common to see large, happy families. Helpfully, it’s also more common to hear about the pain of infertility, the high prevalence of miscarriage, and the desire of couples to have more children than they can or do. After decades of treating pregnancy like a terrible curse or an optional part of marriage, people are beginning to see and realize that children are a gift and never ever guaranteed. I’m also hearing couples openly admitting that they don’t use contraception. Although that’s none of my business, it is so good to have real voices in the discussion.

I think social pressure causes couples to ignore or reject the teaching more than theological disagreement. So many people believe in the myth of overpopulation or consider large families a drain on social resources. It’s very uncommon to have more than three children, so large families stick out. It’s so common to use contraception that everyone assumes that everyone else is doing it (even those who are not and are actually suffering through infertility or miscarriage; “can’t have kids” looks the same as “won’t have kids” from the outside). Couples who don’t use contraception seem like they’re religious fanatics, kidding themselves, or just plain crazy. It’s hard to stick to the truth against those odds.

What natural methods are promoted by the particular churches to help spouses put into practice the teachings of Humanae Vitae?

(Note: In this case “particular churches” means parishes and conferences of bishops in each country.)

This varies by diocese. I’m most familiar with the Diocese of Austin because I didn’t have any personal or professional interest in locally-approved NFP methods when I lived in any other dioceses (so far Washington, Military Services, Fort Wayne–South Bend, Birmingham, and Mobile). The Diocese of Austin NFP page has an up-to-date list, with the Family of the Americas method (ovulation-only) being the most recently approved. Most dioceses also approve the Creighton FertilityCare method (sympto-thermal) and Billings method (ovulation-only).

What is your experience on this subject in the practice of the Sacrament of Penance and participation at the Eucharist?

I am openly celibate and have never been pregnant, so my firsthand experience is basically nonexistent. I have some conjectures and hearsay, though, for what it’s worth.

I think everyone is aware that churchgoing, Eucharist-receiving couples include those who are using contraception. It’s sad, but it definitely happens. Based on the lines I see for Confession, many more people receive the Eucharist than go to Confession even once or twice a year. The groups must overlap, so that the aforementioned contracepting couples are receiving the Eucharist even though they shouldn’t be.

I don’t know what to do about that. I’m sure they’re aware that they shouldn’t be contracepting. Even non-Catholics know the basic teaching. I’m slightly less sure that these couples know they shouldn’t be receiving the Eucharist if they have used contraception (without receiving Reconciliation and stopping usage before receiving). So many people see receiving the Eucharist as just “what everyone does” at Mass, like standing and kneeling. But that’s not true.

I have heard two older women (as in, at least 60 years old now) tell me their stories of looking for a priest to say, in the confessional, that using contraception was okay and they didn’t have to stop, or that they “already had two children,” so they couldn’t be expected to remain open to life. They found those priests. Those priests’ attempt at good counsel isn’t true, either, but the blame for that lies on those priests and their teachers, not the women. I hope that’s not happening anymore, but based on some of the discussions I’m hearing about communion for the divorced and remarried, it probably does. We can’t stop at converting the lay faithful; we need all the clergy behind us.

What differences are seen in this regard between the Church’s teaching and civic education?

I never heard about any method of family planning or pregnancy avoidance in public school other than abstinence and contraception. Abstinence was always mentioned, with a solid shout-out to its effectiveness… and a solid base of disbelief that anyone would ever do such a thing voluntarily. No surprises there.

The thing is, I didn’t learn about NFP until college. I remember seeing a small ad in the church bulletin when I was in 8th or 9th grade (the only time my family went to church weekly) about classes for married couples on the “new, scientific” method that replaced the “old rhythm method.” To be fair, I think I only set foot in a church about twice before I came back for good when I was in college. Then I got the details, and now that I’m an adult, I can’t even begin to describe how useful that knowledge would have been when I was younger.

Currently, the secular world has adopted its own form of NFP. This can only be good news for the Church. Their term is “fertility awareness method,” which is arguably more accurate. It’s the same scientific concept as NFP without the religious foundation, and it allows barrier methods instead of requiring abstinence during peak fertility. It appeals to the no-chemicals, natural, “green,” highly-informed sensibilities of contemporary Americans. There is potential for the NFP community to do some ecumenical crossover work there. Cassie Moriarty’s short film “Miscontraceptions” is a step in the right direction.

How can a more open attitude towards having children be fostered? How can an increase in births be promoted?

The tough thing about dramatic social change, such as couples having fewer children, is that it takes time for those decisions to bear fruit (pardon the pun). Social Security may be gone when my generation retires because there are not as many workers contributing as retiring; the retirees didn’t have enough children. Catholic elementary schools built to hold the Baby Boomers are now closing because the children of Boomers are fewer in number or went to public school. (The schools that survive are enrolling Hispanic students as that population explodes.) Women were told to pursue education and careers before childbearing, and when they did, they had fewer childbearing years left and more difficulty conceiving later in life.

There are two aspects that can help promote child-rearing. First is the understanding that children are the quintessential fruit of marriage. When marriage is all about the love between adults, children become an accessory, and there are fewer of them. Second is the understanding that children are a gift. When couples at least believe they deserve children—and whenever they want them—they are less willing to accept “surprises,” “imperfect” babies, or any more once they are “done.” Changing a culture takes time, but it is possible.

I did my best not to go off on any tangents there and to stick most closely to what I know. Do you see differently? Have you read Humanae Vitae? How do you think we can evangelize the culture with the gospel of marriage and family life?

7 Quick Takes on Dance Clothes, Books, and Mass in Latin


— 1 —

Before Easter, I did not exercise. At all. I know, I know. I had already taken baby steps to improve my health by eating fruits and vegetables, drinking more water, and flossing. My struggles with spending my time/life wisely always made me think I just didn’t have time to exercise. And I didn’t have any exercise clothes anyway.

Of course, I am now hooked on the form of covert exercise that is social dancing. Wearing regular shoes to class and socials (because I don’t have dance shoes yet) is bad enough. It was time to invest in some proper exercise clothes. A sale came along for the Old Navy Active line, so I bought a few tops and wore one to class last night. Worked like a charm!

I’m still searching for modest bottoms since I just can’t justify wearing yoga pants or leggings (without a skirt over them), but I think I have tops covered. This whole concept of regularly breaking a sweat is new to me, but at least it’s more comfortable now.

— 2 —

Story of my life.

— 3 —

“In the case of good books, the point is not how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”
—Mortimer Adler

from the Catholic Education Resource Center newsletter

— 4 —

I had the joy of attending an Ordinary Form Mass in Latin at St. William Parish this week. If not for Cris’s post at Austin CNM, I would have missed it completely. I hadn’t been to one since college, so it was great to dust off my chant and pronunciation muscles.

Even in Latin, the Ordinary Form (a.k.a. Novus Ordo) is what most people think of when they picture a Catholic Mass. The Ordinary Form in Latin is just like going to Mass in Portuguese, Russian, or any other language one doesn’t speak. The one with different parts and the priest facing the altar is properly called the Extraordinary Form, and it is only in Latin.

I don’t like to call that second one the “Traditional Latin Mass” or even “Latin Mass” for three reasons:

  1. I don’t use the word “traditional” that way. It’s too political and vague.
  2. The Ordinary Form has been around for 50 years. Something that happens basically every day for half a century sounds pretty “traditional” to me.
  3. You can celebrate the Ordinary Form in Latin. This is what St. William did this week.

— 5 —

Personally, I didn’t have much trouble with the language. I speak Spanish, so Latin is recognizable. It was the same form of Mass I usually attend, so even when I got lost in various phrases, I could pick out key words and movements to use as anchors. It was very similar to going to Mass in Spanish, actually.

My only linguistic surprise was when Mass turned out to be not in just two languages, but three! The Liturgy of the Word (minus the Creed) was all in English, which I appreciated. I was still startled when Fr. Uche began speaking Spanish during his homily! St. William has a huge Spanish-speaking congregation, but I forgot that Fr. Uche speaks Spanish.

I had the same assessment that I always do when something is presented bilingually: the Spanish always seems more direct. Latin does, too. English can be wishy-washy.

— 6 —

About that Creed: whoa. I have never even attempted to chant the Creed in Latin. Of course it was the Nicene Creed; go big or go home. It was exhausting! The music took up more than two pages of the worship aid. We all survived, though.

— 7 —

The hardest part for me (and probably most attendees) was the sheer volume of Latin chant. There was very little Latin speaking for the congregation to do. The parish wisely provided a complete worship aid, although the music was in chant notation. Many people don’t read music; fewer people read chant notation.

Before that chant Mass back in undergrad, we had several weeks of (optional) practice of the Gloria, Sanctus, and Mystery of Faith. That was in modern notation, though. We always ended our weekly group holy hour with the Salve Regina, so I had seen chant notation before, and I had done a little research. I also read music. Yet I still struggle with chant.

My parish in Montgomery only ever chanted the Gloria in Latin and a cappella, so that was almost second nature. It’s long, though, so I need to read along every time. That was no problem this week.

Most regular Massgoers can sing the simple tone of the Agnus Dei; it’s commonly used during Lent for greater solemnity. On Wednesday, we used the solemn (read: fancy) tones for everything. Tough going, but the Creed was toughest!

In the midst of all that chanting, I learned an important lesson about chant: if you miss the beginning of a syllable, it is very easy to get lost. In solemn tones, one syllable can last for several notes. Imagine Mariah Carey stretching “oh” for three or four beats of music, and you have an idea of what chant syllables are like.

Overall, it was so much fun. I adored our recessional song, “O With Thy Benediction” (PDF link), because it was packed with theological goodness and to the same tune as “O God, Beyond All Praising.” Going to Mass in any language besides English is great because I am forced to pay attention. If I don’t follow each word and action, I’ll get lost, and then I’m not really praying, am I? Yet even when I don’t know any of the words, the foundational prayer of the Mass is the same. That is the beauty of a universal, catholic church.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

What I Wore Sunday: A Bit of Everything


I was on time today! That was really my biggest win in an otherwise unusually challenging and unproductive weekend, so let’s move on.
What I Wore Sunday, June 28

Dress: super old, from a catalog, but I’ve worn it several times in the last year
Sweater: gift, I think from Kohl’s
Belt: Target
Shoes: Payless
Necklace: holy medals

Today, I wanted something that required very little ironing: not because I was rushing, but because I just wasn’t in the mood to iron for very long. I wanted a dress since I have been wearing a lot of skirts lately. I also wanted something summery since, despite the unseasonably cool weather (low 90’s!), it is time to wear summer clothes again. I have some dresses (like this one) that are too fancy for work, but just right for church. So this was the winner.

Ultimately, I wanted to find a way to wear this long shift dress again. I’ve worn it several times with a white cap-sleeve blouse, but I ruined that blouse in the laundry a while ago. This sweater did the shoulder-covering trick nicely. I prefer longer lengths to a bolero jacket with this dress. It adds so much dimension that is completely absent in the base dress.

When I sat down at Mass this evening, I thought about what seems to be dying in my life. Death was an obvious theme today, and that turned out to be a productive line of thought, although I don’t want to share any more here. Fr. Associate Pastor focused on the healing of the hemorrhaging woman. (He got in some nice reminders about marriage without completely shifting the homily’s focus.) He said that, although it seems like the woman stole Jesus’ healing power, causing him to hunt her down and her to step forward in fear, that’s not what happens. Jesus specifically says that her faith saved her. She was healed because she believed that, through Jesus’ power, she would be.

I don’t think Fr. Associate Pastor actually said it, but I can draw that out to the raising of Jairus’s daughter. The messengers came to tell Jairus to stop bothering Jesus since the girl was dead. They believed that Jesus had the power to heal but not that he had the power to raise the dead. Jesus kicks them out of the room for that, and he does heal the little girl. The people who had faith even that he could raise the dead were rewarded for their faithfulness.

It’s been a pretty good Sunday, and not just because of the adorable little girl sitting next to me in church tonight. How was your day?

For more Mass fashion and commentary, visit Fine Linen and Purple.

Booking Through Thursday: The Other Side


What do non-reader friends think about your reading habits? Do they understand? Are they sympathetic? Are they always trying to get you to “get your nose out of that book?”

One thing I’ve discovered about being a semi-professional reader is that it opens up book-related conversations quite nicely. Since I read on a schedule, I always have a good answer to “What are you reading?” So far, the only personal recommendation I’ve followed up on was Open Mind, Faithful Heart, from the pre-papacy writings of Pope Francis. That turned out to be a great lead!

Just last night, some in-person friends were telling me that they follow my reviews (or maybe this blog… perhaps both!), so I know they know that I’m reading as well as what I’m reading. It’s nice to know that I have a sympathetic audience. It also keeps me on my best blogging behavior, which is wise, because this is a public blog and I use my real identity.

I’ve never really encountered opposition to reading. I can remember many moments in school when I was finished with my assignment way before the rest of the class. My teachers usually okayed reading a personal book during those times (it kept me quiet and relatively on-task), but they would also occasionally ask me to help my fellow classmates who were still working and struggling.

My ed school classmates and I discussed that situation once, and we came up at a loss for a solid solution. Students teaching students can be empowered, but they’re not the teachers; we are.

Then again, I’d be kidding myself if I pretended that those early experiences of teaching didn’t spark my lifelong love. I used to read stories to the neighborhood kids in my pretend classroom. That counted as playing outside! Teaching is in my blood, even if I don’t do it professionally anymore. It’s right next to reading, and we all know that’s not going anywhere.

For more short queries about books and the reading life, visit Booking Through Thursday.

What I Wore Sunday: Purple & Gray


I’m still working on that whole Sunday timeline problem, but I managed to make it to Confession and a going-away holy hour this weekend, so I’m calling it a win. (Yes, my friends are the “going-away holy hour” type. Surprised?)

What I Wore Sunday, June 21

Top: Target
Skirt: Old Navy
Necklace: Charming Charlie
Shoes: Old Navy

When I bought this skirt, I was expecting a much lighter, sweatpants kind of gray. Now that I own it and have worn it several times, I love the darker, slate gray. It elevates it above looking like sweatpants without taking away any of the comfort or stylishness.

What caught my friends’ eye was the purple necklace + shirt combo. That just goes to show that every piece of an outfit is important. I have definitely complimented friends’ shoes without paying any attention to what else they were wearing. I do like this necklace, though. It was a Christmas present from my sister, although I picked it out. Purple is my favorite color, but I don’t own a lot of it, so this seemed like a step in the right direction. And I can’t resist Charming Charlie!

I lectored on Sunday. It was the first time in a long time that we have been without a deacon. I had the first reading, so I did not have to carry our immense Book of the Gospels in procession. Something was off, though. Despite my having practiced the reading, I stumbled over my words several times. It was such a short reading that I knew I had to make every word count. A baby started crying at almost the same moment I began, which uncharacteristically threw off my concentration. I was also upset that the selection for Mass ended in an exclamation point; that passage in context ends which a question mark that makes way more sense. It was not my finest lectoring moment, but it’s not about me anyway, right?

Fr. Associate Pastor spoke about storms, of course. He mentioned that Jesus is our refuge in the storms of life, even when it seems like he has left us alone. Fr. Robert Barron took it a little further in his homily podcast, drawing in the first reading (a technique I adore and wish I heard all the time). Job’s suffering is completely unwarranted. That’s part of the point of the book: he didn’t do anything to deserve his torment, and he was so faithful already that he somehow managed to be more faithful even after losing everything but his life. In the passage that makes up the first reading, God is reminding Job that he (God) is in charge of everything. He makes the wind blow and the waves rise. He created Job and the universe. No matter how bad the storms get (literal storms or figurative ones), God will be our refuge. In the Gospel, the Son of God demonstrates the same power.

Basically, when the storms come, as they always will, you want to be on the winning side. That’s the Jesus side.

For more Mass fashion and commentary, visit Fine Linen and Purple.

A Response to “What Sucks about the Catholic Church”

Every spring brings the Church a batch of shiny new Catholics, and every year I see the same list of complaints. No, not the ones about people “taking your pew.” The ones about the niggling weaknesses in the Church. Many adults who enter the Catholic Church, especially those who were members of other Christian traditions first, are confident that they have found the truth, but they see persistent problems here. For Albert Little, a newly confirmed Catholic, this takes the form of a particular list: “What Sucks about the Catholic Church.” Mildly vulgar language aside, he makes three primary points that caused me to reflect on some blind spots remaining in our faith.

A Response to "What Sucks about the Catholic Church," at

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

7 Quick Takes on Blogging, Still More Dancing, and GTD


— 1 —

I keep an editorial calendar for my blog. The usual purpose of an editorial calendar is to plan out a schedule of future posts, but that doesn’t work well for me, so I use it more as an easy, month-at-a-glance view of my past posts. I update it when my plan didn’t match what actually happened, which I also do with my regular life calendar.

In looking at my editorial calendar this week, I realized that I publish about one essay-style (non-linkup, non-series) post per month. I don’t have stats from before I started keeping the calendar, of course, but that unintentional rhythm seems to be working really well for me. It sparks the part of my heart that misses writing for English class, knowing that someone would read it. Thank you all for reading.

— 2 —

Incidentally, my essay-style post about why “single life” is not a vocation has been blowing up! I’m really encouraged by the positive feedback I’ve been getting. I was hesitant to post it, especially since I’d been sitting on that draft for a while, but it was still true and timely.

I didn’t mention it in the post, but I was inspired to finally press publish by a similar recent post by Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington (my home diocese). He agrees with my thesis, yet he takes a broader and deeper theological perspective. He does have a (vowed) vocation, though, so I think I’m still contributing a valuable voice to the discussion.

— 3 —

In other blog posting news, I’ve been posting What I Wore Sunday mostly on days that are not Sunday since, um, April (yikes!), but I’m also getting more sleep. I get a slightly better start on the work week. That seems to have been a good tradeoff on all fronts. My friend and reader Dan was right: getting enough sleep is so important that it will throw off the rest of your life.

If only I could get things done and get more sleep. Anyone want to loan me a Time-Turner?

— 4 —

So far, I am only taking group classes in West Coast Swing. My budget doesn’t have room for private lessons just yet, but it will eventually. (It needs room for proper shoes first.) Until then, I stick with focusing on my instructor’s teaching and kitchen practice.

There is no substitute for a real dance floor and real dance shoes, but I’ve found a decent approximation: kitchen practice. I put on my soft-bottomed kitty slippers, cue up a song on my iPhone, mentally mark the ends of the slot in the space between my kitchen island and the window, and dance. I have not yet accidentally fallen through the window, so that’s a win. (Not quite the win I asked for, but I’ll take it).

The long, narrow-ish space helps keep me in the slot. I struggle to stay in it otherwise. The leader is supposed to be in charge of moving the slot, so I think that’s a problem I can work on later.

I don’t have a leader, though. That’s one of the reasons I started taking classes in the first place: to have access to a bunch of willing, generally capable leaders. (So far, they have been at least as capable as I am. Some are far better than I am, but we work it out.) Practicing without a partner is tricky, yet it has helped me develop a new appreciation for how hard it is to lead. It’s a whole different level of work to lead yourself without a partner while working on how you’re following. Whew!

— 5 —

The GTD podcast has finally rebooted! It’s produced by the real David Allen Company, and it’s free. I attempted to listen to Episode 3, the guided mind sweep, while driving to work this morning. This was a mistake because (a) generating to-do items when you can’t capture them is extremely frustrating, and (b) it started with a warning not to listen unless you were prepared to capture. It all worked out in the end, though, because my phone started freaking out and randomly restarting, so I had to stop listening anyway. #fail converted to #winning.

— 6 —

If that song weren’t so great for dancing West Coast Swing, I would never listen to it. But it is. I settle for not practicing to it so as not to increase the YouTube stats. So there!

— 7 —

It was a quiet week, so I’ll leave it at six takes. Until next time!

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

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