Today's lesson in the Catechism was one that I've been looking forward to for many, many months; it was about the Sacrament of Marriage. Now, to recap, I've been dancing around the idea of marriage for many years now on this blog -- what it means to me, what I see it means to others, but I've never had the opportunity to approach it from a faith-based standpoint.
That is, until today. Lesson 35 of the Catechism didn't tell me anything that surprised me, but it only reinforced the things that I had always thought about marriage: that it calls those in it to sacrifice and be faithful to one another, to provide for their children (if they are so blessed to have them), and to honor the laws of God in their marriage.
That was pretty cut and dry. What I hadn't expected was the realization that marriage is the ultimate "All-in" thing for one overarching reason.
1. You're putting all your trust in God.
Human beings aren't particularly trusting individuals, at least when it comes to things that we can't see or touch. As Catholics, we're called to put our trust in God that we'll get the special graces we need to bear the many crosses of marriage. We're called to surrender ourselves to God's plan.
And, in marriage, God's plan may be children. Catholicism calls all Catholics to be "open to life." We're called to embrace fertility, to have faith in God if we -- as a married couple -- are blessed with a large family.
It is here, when children are concerned, where I think the trust factor plays the biggest role. In the lead-up to marriage there is some element of control in our lives about how things are going; we're dating someone, we're evaluating if they'd make suitable partners, we're juggling our feelings, our jobs, our lives separate from one another, our lives together: it's a hectic, hot mess sometimes but it's our mess.
But when you take the Sacrament of Marriage, God goes from taking a bit of a backseat to being a big part of what's going on between you and your spouse. No longer are you keeping the option of ending things in your back pocket, you're in all the way. You're saying to the Church, to the people in your life, to your spouse, and to God "I accept the duties and responsibilities of marriage, I accept the crosses and blessings you will bestow on me, and I accept that you, Lord, are in control of everything."
What's included in that everything is life; specifically, the life that may be brought forth due to the union of man and woman. One of the questions at the end of the Catechism lesson asked, "Why should married people not worry about whether they will be able to support their children if God sends them a large family?"
The answer to that is this: God will provide. He guarantees married people all the material things they need as long as they keep His laws in marriage, trust Him, and pray for their needs.
Yet, that HUGE trust in God -- and it is huge -- is something that is difficult for some to acknowledge. Some couples use contraception (which is forbidden in the Catholic Church, by law), and others use Natural Family Planning (Church approved method of planning out a family without the use of chemicals/hormones/preventive methods), which is actually catching on in the mainstream.
For myself, I know contraception isn't the way I would go (unless exceptional circumstances demanded it, I wouldn't do it). The "use a condom, have sex, and don't worry about the consequences!" mantra of our culture is one of the reasons why marriage and healthy relationships are crumbling around us.
I wouldn't want my theoretical-hypothetical-future-wife to use contraception either, because the chemicals that are in birth control pills and other birth control methods are just horrid for the body. It doesn't do good things (as the linked article above from CNN details a bit).
So, is NFP the way to go? As far as Church approved methods go, yes. But it places a lot of the onus on the women in the marriage. From the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops comes this explanation on NFP:
Natural Family Planning is an umbrella term for certain methods used to achieve and avoid pregnancies. These methods are based on observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman's menstrual cycle. Couples using NFP to avoid pregnancy abstain from intercourse and genital contact during the fertile phase of the woman's cycle. No drugs, devices, or surgical procedures are used to avoid pregnancy.
NFP reflects the dignity of the human person within the context of marriage and family life, promotes openness to life, and recognizes the value of the child. By respecting the love-giving and life-giving natures of marriage, NFP can enrich the bond between husband and wife. (Standards for Diocesan Natural Family Planning Ministry, p. 23)
These "methods of observation" are, almost always, performed by the women (as it probably should be), but it's a lot of work. From everything I read there are a lot of measurements, a lot of charting, a lot of data tracking ... all things which I fully endorse (I like doing those things) but it seems very one-sided.
"But wait, the couple has to abstain from intercourse during the fertile period! That's basically saying the guy can't get any during that time, that's a sacrifice on the man's part!" you say. To which I agree with, partially, but really being chaste shouldn't be that much of a sacrifice.
As Catholics, we're called to be chaste until marriage. That basically means a minimum of two decades without sex. I myself am a virgin, have never gotten close to having sex, and will very likely never be put in a situation before marriage where I am close to that. So, as far as this concerns me, being chaste during the fertile phase doesn't seem like a big deal.
Of course, I also haven't had sex so sex doesn't seem like a big deal. I imagine my stance on this will probably change should I be married in the future.
But the point of all this is to say that the women in the marriage seem to do the majority of the work in NFP and I know, from various accounts over the last four years, how difficult and demanding NFP can be.
As a matter of fact, NFP and how it's used by Catholics was one of the first deep conversations I had about Catholicism. I was of the opinion, at the time, that NFP was basically contraception in effect, if not in name. But the other two Catholics in the room, both female, told me that wasn't so.
Here we are now and I'm in agreement -- it isn't so. The biggest thing about NFP is that it "promotes openness to life" and that's something that contraception simply can't claim; contraception, by it's nature, is a prevention/destruction of the possibility of life. There's no way around that.
Even if you do NFP and do it in such a way that you avoid pregnancy, there's no guarantee that it'll work -- success rates are high, if you go by the stats, but I'm wary of going by just the stats alone. Stats can be made to reflect almost anything. Personal testimonies could be twisted ... so I'm on the fence at just how viable it is.
There's more that I need to research on it, no doubt, but NFP -- and the potential of children in the first place -- is where the biggest trust factor in God's plan comes in. You're not just trusting him with your life, the life of your wife, the life of your marriage, but also the lives of your possible children ... and that's a lot of control to give up.
I think that's the main reason why things are so tough for married folks today; it's that some of them don't realize that they have to give up control. They have to give it up fully to God and that's scary.
But I think this sums up perfectly why I and others shouldn't be so scared.
Thanks for reading, folks. God Bless.