Natural Family Planning

Dear Anthony,

I’m getting married soon and I wanted to find out exactly how NFP works, since that’s what the Church recommends.  I have saved myself for my husband and remained pure.  I want to enjoy sex without the worries of getting pregnant right away.  I want my husband to enjoy sex too, so NFP allows him to go all the way.  If we use the method where we monitor my cycle, we can’t enjoy sex anytime we are interested, and we will both be frustrated.  From what I’ve learned so far, using NFP also means we can make love when the mood strikes but have the frustration of having to halt or forgo it since we don’t want to conceive yet. Please advise me on the different methods and how they can be used without feeling limited, restricted or guilty.  Isn’t there a method that allows us to have sex whenever we want and not worry about conceiving?

First, let me say how wonderful it is that you have successfully maintained your virginity and how admirable it is that you saved yourself for your future husband.  In this day and age, there are so many forces at work to ensure no one enters marriage as a virgin, even if they sincerely intended to.  Those like yourself who were steadfast are truly heroes of purity.

In all my years of providing advice for singles and couples, I’ve never had anyone just come out with this concern so blatantly as you have here.  It’s refreshing and I appreciate it.  As you can imagine, so many Catholics have thought this very same thing but typically will beat around the bush around the core motive.  Plus, they don’t want to admit that this is their main concern, because it sounds too worldly or impure or shallow, etc.

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It’s important to first recognize that one aspect of your motive for your concerns is completely understandable and makes sense.  You are attracted to your spouse and want to have physical intimacy, but get frustrated by having to stop that natural and beautiful inspiration to consider if you might get pregnant.  You’d be surprised how many Catholic marriages have problems because of this particular frustration.  So there is nothing wrong with your concern, nor with your hope in finding a way to be intimate at will without worrying about pregnancy.

Now the bad news.  There is no way around having to deal with this concern. Like all actions, there is responsibility involved.  Anyone trying to take the responsibility out of sexual activity is deceiving themselves and playing with fire. Sexual intimacy is the most natural thing in the world, but so is having children. They really and truly are not separate things.

There is no sure fire way to have it both ways without going outside of the Church.  All the birth control methods available are contraception.  These birth control methods do not have a certainty at preventing pregnancy (many have learned that the hard way). They might have a high success rate, but not 100%. The pill has the added sinful result of actually chemically aborting a newly conceived child.

NFP (Natural Family Planning), though approved by the Church, is not meant to be a contraceptive method.  In other words, if a married couple is going to use NFP in order to share their love for each other in intercourse but prevent conception, it can be considered a form of contraception. There are many ways contraception is defined, but the most important part is “the deliberate use of artificial methods or other techniques to prevent pregnancy as a consequence of sexual intercourse.”  To deliberately prevent pregnancy is what the Church teaches to be gravely sinful.

I think you can see where I am going with all this.  No one faults you for your desire to share your love for your spouse as physically and intimately as possible. But marriage is a call to responsibility. And at the top of the priority list is the responsibility to be a family.  The main purpose of the love you have for each other that brings you together in marriage is to bring forth new life.

I have told countless couples to postpone getting married if they are not ready to have children. The strong pull toward each other in love is to foster a mutual commitment for life in marriage.  And that intimacy desired is designed to bring forth new life.

This notion of needing time as couple to get to know each other is hogwash. That is merely two people making an excuse to be selfish.  There is no room for selfishness in the commitment to marriage.  When you marry, you agree to start a family.  And you are a family.  Your new responsibilities are for your spouse, and any children that God blesses you with.  Your life is one of sacrifice, not self-indulgence.

So why get married if you are not ready for the gift of children?  And they are a gift.  A precious gift – and a visible sign of your love for each other.  Children force the couple to get out of themselves and raise these new persons entrusted to them.  It’s a big responsibility.  So my advice is to not get married until you’re ready to have children.

And when you do marry, be completely open to life and start having your family. However, be responsible.  NFP can help you to conceive.  It can also help you to space children as necessary.  Work closely with a trusted priest or spiritual director to assist you with important decisions like how many children to have and when.  That is tricky as you go along in your marriage.

But at the time of getting married, there is no good reason to immediately prevent conception.  You don’t want to stunt God’s purpose in bringing you together.  And you will definitely get to know each other more as you go through having a baby.  It will bring you closer than ever.

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The high price of not putting out.

Dear Anthony,

I’ve had it with men!  Once again, I have been rejected by a guy because I would not have sex with him, and made it clear (after his many attempts) that I’m not that kind of girl and it’s not going to happen until I’m married.  It never fails.  Things are going great and then the guy breaks up with me using any excuse, but I know it’s because I’m not “putting out”.  And these are nice, Catholic guys.  I am so crushed right now.  I can’t help thinking I’m doomed to a life of loneliness because I won’t have sex until I’m married.  But I DON’T want to be alone!  Maybe I should just give in since even the great guys are expecting it.  I’m so depressed.  Why do Catholic guys expect sex from a Catholic girl?  I just don’t understand.

It always deeply saddens me when a woman writes to me about this exact scenario.  Unfortunately, I hear this very same thing all time, and have for years.  So let me first say that I am sincerely sorry for what you are going through, and all women like you go through this kind of rejection (and God knows there are many).

I believe that there are many good, Catholic men out there who are authentically good men and would make good husbands and fathers, but because they have allowed themselves to adopt certain modern ideas and practices about approaching women, they are ultimately too toxic to be capable of marital love.

There is much about today’s society and its obsession with sex that bombards men involuntarily and affects men negatively without them realizing it. Have men really become so intoxicated with this culturally pro-sex lifestyle that they cannot see the value and beauty of a woman who is clearly a good catch for them?  Are they really too sex-driven to be willing to endure a time of chastity in courtship with the woman he will spend the rest of his life loving in every way (including physically) within marriage?

Perhaps the answer is yes, they are too sexually intoxicated.  And like a drunk who denies they have a problem with alcohol, a sexually intoxicated Catholic man will never admit that they have been influenced by this substance which affects his judgment when it comes to love and marriage.  We cannot discount the power of intoxication on anyone, including genuinely good people; nor can we discount the power of the culture to intoxicate a person ever so subtly and without resistance.

I would like to believe that however powerful the culture is to intoxicate for the worst, the exposure to purity and beauty in a good woman is that much more powerful to wake a man up from his blindness and see just how wrong he is about how he treats a woman and approaches sex.  No, scratch that.  I DO believe that this kind of good woman is more powerful than the power the culture holds over a man.

So why are so many good women being rejected by men who should be thanking God for sending such a woman into his life?  That I cannot answer.  I could offer my opinion and some theories, but I don’t have a clear answer.  Maybe the men aren’t as close to Christ and the Sacraments (sources of the only power to combat such evil) as they should be.  Perhaps they are too far invested in the lifestyle of having sex or living together prior to marriage.  Perhaps they really don’t want to be married.  Who knows?

Too many good women are paying the high price of remaining faithful to their belief that sex is for after marriage.  And too many of these women are in pain because they are made to feel like they are somehow idiots for taking that belief so seriously.  And too many of these women are beating themselves up trying to figure out what else could be wrong with them that caused the man to break up with her, not willing to believe he was so shallow to do it just because she wouldn’t put out.

I can’t sugar coat this one, ladies.  You do pay a high price, in that you don’t have someone to share your life with when you want that so very much.  But you can’t ever forget (please, don’t ever forget) that you also paid a high price to Christ for standing your ground, and that price is deep union with the greatest love of your love, Jesus Himself, and the eternal happiness you will possess as a result.

I suggest you hold your head high and continue being the beautiful woman you are for yourself and for the sake of Christ.  Don’t allow these men to take away who you are.  Keep becoming more and more beautiful, and live as if it’s them who are missing out.  You always have your union with your ultimate love, Jesus Christ.  That is no pious sentiment.  That is real and true.  And it’s better than anything.  Pray for these men.  They need it.

But also stay open and hopeful. There are lots of single men out there who share your commitment to chastity, or who will respect and admire you.

You’re not my type!

Nowadays, there is much talk of “types” in dating.  “He’s a nice guy, but he’s not my type.” “I don’t know a thing about her, but she is definitely my type”.  Friends and family chime in as well because apparently they are in tune with your “type.” But what is a “type”?

I have come to believe that we use the word “type” as a replacement for a feeling that accompanies an attraction that really can’t be put into words.  There are certain physical features, ways of dressing, how a person conducts themselves, personality qualities, or something else, that just always seems to get your attention and spark interest.

In my opinion, that’s not really “type.”  That’s preference.  We can’t really say “I prefer” one person over another, though.  That would sound too snobbish.  But we do have preferences, and that’s okay.

When it comes to “type,” there is something very different going on that I don’t think anyone likes to admit.

When it comes to dating, we believe and maintain that we are doing something exclusively in the “now.” Certainly, it’s a new person, it’s a new day, things are what they are right now.  So yes, we shall see what happens as two people attempt to become a couple.

But in reality, this new person we’re dating is being viewed through a prism — the prism of our our past.  In doing so, we evoke types, based on people in our past.  From these past types, we create our present type, which influences our decisions with the person we’re dating.

That sounds kind of creepy.  Nobody wants to think that any new person they’re with is some kind of placeholder of a previous person.  No one wants to think the person they’re dating is looking at them as if they are someone else, or that they want them to actually be someone else.   That’s not really it.  It’s something far less obvious and calculating, promoted from a more subconscious reality.

One of the foremost past types in our lives is our father and mother.  None of us can escape our parental influences.  We lived with them through all the formative years.  Their ways, their mannerisms, their vernacular, their interests, their behavior, have rubbed off on us.  They raised us as they saw fit, and we learned from their example. They were the role models of our lives (whether parent, uncle or aunt, grandparent, step parent, etc.), and they have formed us in how we believe a male and a female adult should be.

Everyone’s prism is different.  In fact, it’s absolutely unique to each individual, even those from the same household.  Two siblings have just started dating new people in their lives.  The siblings both find the person they’re dating is just like their mother.  One sibling hated their mother, the other idolized her.   The one who hated their mother finds the new dating relationship is not working out and soon breaks it off.  The one who idolized their mother finds the new dating relationship is working out well and allows it to get more serious.

Both siblings had no idea they went into the new relationship looking through their prism.  Like all of us, they went into it with a completely “now” approach.  But the fact is, the past type of their mother played an influential role in the present type, and had the subsequential results.

Now consider this.  The sibling who idolized their mother had a distorted sense of what was to be idolized.  The idolizing was because she was the mother, but what was learned from the mother was dysfunctional.  The new relationship is, in fact, not going well because it is dysfunctional.  But the dysfunction is what is considered normal to that sibling because having someone like their mother is more important than what is objectively healthy in a relationship as a couple.

The sibling who broke off the new relationship because the new person was too much like the mother was a move toward breaking free from dysfunction.

How about those who had wonderful, truly ideal parents?  A young adult girl begins to date and very much wants (and needs) to find someone like her father.  She doesn’t know this consciously, but her prism is very specifically in search of this.  Unfortunately, she cannot meet anyone exactly like her father.  Her standards are so high, and finding a man with so much quality and virtue is so difficult and discouraging.

As the years go on, this girl becomes a bitter woman, more bitter with every passing year of experiencing men who are not like her father.  Each new man gets less and less of a chance with her because their window of opportunity to prove themselves is shorter because she has become impatient and too assuming of the worst.  Some good men actually come and go, all because she coupled her high standards of a past type with her disappointing experiences and time-frame for finding such a man.

We can’t help the prism we have.  It’s there. It has to be accepted.  However, like all prisms, they can present a different light if you look through it on a different angle.  Our prisms might very well be an indicator of how we have been fashioned to be attracted to a certain type, but it does not mean we have no say in the matter or are predetermined to be stuck with that certain type.  No!  We have a choice.

This is precisely why the Catholic Church puts so much emphasis in marriage preparation (and in the annulment process) on the upbringing of individuals.  How we grew up matters.  It’s why a therapist or counselor often attempt to help you make connections with your past, specifically your parents.  It’s not to make you feel like you’re crazy or get you to admit you hate your parents.  And it’s not so you’ll realize that you’re not fit for marriage and no one will ever want you.

On the contrary, it’s meant to prompt awareness.  Awareness of who you are based on your past, why you do the things you do, what your triggers from the past are while you are in the “now” with the person you’re dating.  All kinds of things to be aware of regarding your prism in order to help you see through it in a different direction, and so it can cast a different light on the now.

Knowing and embracing our past is all part of embracing who we are.  Our prism is a phenomenal and beautiful mechanism that shapes our adult life and future.  Understanding it and how to use it can make all the difference between healthy and dysfunctional relationships.

So the next time you are interested in discussing your “type” in dating, consider the prism through which you can know your true type, and through which you can discover who to enjoy the type of person you’re with in the “now”.

I’m dating a Catholic, now what?

Dear Anthony,

I could use some advice as the non-Catholic party in my relationship.  My boyfriend is a very nice Catholic guy.  He knew I was not Catholic.  We get along just great.  But he’s “really” Catholic, and I’m “really” not.  He isn’t insisting on me being Catholic or anything like that.  But I can’t help feeling like that is going to come up sometime soon.  It makes me nervous, because I don’t want to get so far in our relationship and then have heart broken because I won’t become Catholic.  Should I just save both of us a lot of time and grief and end it now, or is there some hope that we could actually get married even though we have two different religions? I understand if you can’t answer this, but I thought I would give it a shot.  Thanks so much.

I’m very glad you reached out to me.  I have discussed matters that involve non-Catholics before, and I am very interested in the concept of mixed marriages and their potential to be successful.  

It’s obvious from your question that have a religion that you practice.  You didn’t share specifically what it is, so I can’t be as specific as might be needed.  It does make a difference if you are a baptized Christian of one of the thousands of Christian denominations, or a non-baptized person of another religion.  What makes no difference, however, is the fact that you belong to another faith, and that causes concerns for both parties.

We live in an age where is extremely easy to meet someone under normal, everyday circumstances who is attractive in many ways, but does not share your religious affiliation and beliefs.  For most of us, we are exposed to all kinds of people.  That makes it very easy to find people we get along with, share common interests, career goals, and are attracted to.  Making friends is easy.  Even getting a date is pretty easy.

Unfortunately, what’s also easy is having sex.  No matter what your religion, in today’s society, moral issues surrounding sex (i.e., chastity, premarital sex, contraception, etc) seem to have become a non-issue.  It seems that everything about society has a pro-sex message and purpose.  Having sex is as commonplace and expected as dining together.  It’s not questioned.  If there is concern, there is fear and guilt about bringing it up.

This leads me to your concern about being involved with a Catholic.  If your boyfriend is a practicing Catholic, there will be several key things about his religion that he will be committed to that should give any non-Catholic concern when it comes to considering a Catholic as a prospective future spouse.  These key things are:

1) The Holy Eucharist.  Any Catholic worth their salt believes that Jesus Christ is truly present, body, blood, soul and divinity, in the Holy Eucharist.  That the bread and wine on the altar at a Catholic Mass is changed in substance (though not appearance) into the body and blood of Christ at the hands of the Catholic priest.  A true Catholic must never, ever, believe it is only bread and wine, or just a symbol. A non-Catholic must accept that the person they love believes this, and never attempt to dissuade them otherwise.  A true Catholic attends Mass every Sunday and holy day of obligation.  The non-Catholic also supports the Catholic’s need to attend Mass every Sunday and is encouraging.

2) Confession.  The act of confessing mortal sins to a Catholic priest, being absolved of those sins, and performing the penance.  A practicing Catholic will go to Confession when they know they are in mortal sin.  This implies that the practicing Catholic stays on top of what the Catholic Church teaches in order to know what is sinful, and examines their conscience to determine when they have sinned.  A non-Catholic must accept that the person they love submits to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church in their life and needs to have their mortal sins absolved by a Catholic priest.  

3)  Pre-marital sex is not allowed.  Genital intercourse prior to marriage is wrong and a mortal sin.  If committed, the sacrament of confession is necessary.  A Catholic is not permitted to have genital intercourse until married, no matter how much it seems right or you love each other, or if there is a desire to live together to see if it will work out first, etc.  A non-Catholic must accept this AND show respect for the person they love by not ridiculing this belief and not tempting them to have sex.  If it still happens, there must be sorrow and remorse, and encouragement by the non-Catholic to go to confession and a stronger commitment to keep it from happening.

4)  Artificial contraception is not allowed.  A woman on the pill, a man using a condom, and any other apparatus or method used for the purpose of preventing conception of a child.  A Catholic can never, ever, agree to the use of artificial contraception IN marriage, as well as prior to marriage.  A non-Catholic must accept that the person they love is pro-life and open to life, and believes contracepting is contrary to life and true love.  

5)  Loves everyone, including enemies.  Jesus Christ gave a new commandment and called all His followers to live it; “love one another as I have loved you.”  This call to love is a call to love the unlovable, enemies, those who persecute you, those in need, those who won’t love you back.  A Catholic is ready to forgive and have mercy on those who wrong and hurt them.  They don’t hold grudges or seek revenge.  They are ready to sacrifice for the good or need of another.  A non-Catholic must accept that they person they love is someone who does not love selectively or conditionally, nor is a hypocrite.

6)  Prayer.  A Catholic makes time to pray to God and strengthen their inner, spiritual lives, and includes God in all important decisions.  A non-Catholic must accept that the person they love is a person of personal prayer and includes God in the relationship.

7)  The Resurrection.  That Jesus Christ, who was crucified, died and was buried, rose from the dead on the third day.  All aspects of being a Catholic is in vain if Jesus did not rise from the dead.  A non-Catholic must accept that the one they love believes this as historical fact and as the cornerstone of faith.

So what do you think so far?  Perhaps you don’t see your boyfriend going to Mass every Sunday, or ever going to Confession.  Perhaps he is totally open to having sex with you, and doesn’t care that you are on the Pill or about using a condom.  Perhaps he loves you but is critical or annoyed or mean to others who have wronged him or you.  Perhaps he rarely prays, and doesn’t show interest in including God in decisions that affect his life.

If this is the case, then you are not actually dating a Catholic.  He might say he is Catholic, but he is not a practicing one.  So I guess you’re safe from worry about him every trying to convert you or being “too Catholic” for you to handle.  Sadly, there are many baptized Catholics who still call themselves Catholic, though they no longer believe or live it.

But if he holds true to these key things, then you have to decide if you can live them, even if he never attempts to get you to become Catholic.  You still have to live with a Catholic.  And what’s more (and it’s MUCH more), you will have to marry this man in the Catholic Church before a priest.  AND, you will need to agree to raising your children to be Catholic.

I truly believe marriage between a Catholic and non-Catholic can work, primarily because marriage itself does not require the same religion to be successful.  Love between two persons can have such a strong mutual respect that there is never an inclination to do anything to hurt the other, and always a mutual encouragement of what is important to the other.  However, it helps a lot if you are the same religion, primarily because of the children.  It seems inevitable that once children come along, each parent starts realizing that it would be important to instill stronger religious values and practices in their children.   

In my experience, interfaith marriages only work if one or both of the persons involved have no serious commitment to their religion prior to marriage.  If one or both get serious about religion after the marriage, that has its own set of risks and problems.  So best to know where you both stand prior to marriage.

You have every right to be concerned about the Catholic you’re dating.  I have provided you with the key specifics that should be the focus of your concern.  I wouldn’t be too concerned about his trying to convert you.  Be more concerned about how serious he is about his Catholic faith and if you can live with a person who lives that way.   

Marriage is successful primarily if your love is built on close friendship, mutual respect, mutual sacrifice, and compromise rather than religious affiliation.  But when it comes to religion, the non-Catholic party has more to compromise and concede to.  I know that’s a lousy deal, but that’s the way it is.  Much is demanded of Catholics, and the Catholic Church does not allow its members to decide what and what not to believe.

The Noah movie

I had to see “Noah” after hearing that so many Christians are upset that it’s non-Biblical, there’s rock people, it’s so far fetched, etc. The rock people sealed it for me. I had to go. And I’m so glad I did.

The first thing I thought when I walked out of the theater was: “Those who are taking this movie that seriously are too tightly wound.” The Noah movie takes full advantage of the gaps in the actual Noah story. And there is nothing wrong with that. Films have license to do just that.

This movie has nothing to do with personal conviction or evangelization. It takes you on a journey through the fantastic via the mind of the artist who created the film. Like all artists, there is freedom to explore and venture into the abstract. The film, for me, was like an impressionist or abstract painting. So much is skewed from reality, but with a beauty and intrigue that is meant to allow you to discover what it means to you.

Above all, it succeeds in being exactly what a film is primarily supposed to be – entertaining. The rock people and their story are part of the overall creativity of the artist’s craft. I mean, come on….you can’t really think there is anyone out there who doubts God’s existence or the story of Noah because of the portrayal of talking rock people. Rather, they add so much to film, and you can’t help thinking, at some point, that you are in a Lord of the Rings type fantasy.

Why is it people still don’t understand that movies are first and foremost entertainment? People don’t watch movies as their source of education or example when it comes to the the Faith. If a movie happens to do this within the context of the primary success of great filmmaking, then it will be effective. I do believe that movies have the power to educate and evangelize. But not at the expense of the art. If a movie is poorly made, then it’s a bad movie which will be ineffective with any message. Just because a movie is specifically for Catholics or has an important Christian message, that cannot excuse poor production. For example, the movie “Therese” was poorly made in every way. I couldn’t recommend it to anyone, even though the content is factual and accurate.

Take “The Passion of the Christ”. The film is an artistic masterpiece. That’s why it was an enormous success. Mel Gibson wanted to present an accurate portrayal of the events and the personal suffering and death of Jesus Christ – and he did so with brilliant filmmaking at every level.

“The Passion” is also loosely based on a true story. Granted, “Noah” takes much more artistic license than “The Passion.” but many things presented in “The Passion” are from the mind of Mel Gibson and the other writers involved, not factual representation. Though I might personally subscribe to many things portrayed in “The Passion”, I can’t go around saying that it represents the facts of the story. Much of it is conjecture is based on the personal interpretation and devotion of the filmmaker.

Though these two films admittedly have two very different purposes behind them, they are both primarily artistic expression from highly talented filmmakers taking a good deal of artistic license. They are the results of master craftsman, not Church authorities or theologians. Ironically, the mostly theologically sound dialogue in “Noah” comes from the character portrayed as the king of the sinful people who will be washed away in the flood. He talks to Noah’s son, Ham, about how the purpose of all creation was to serve man because man was created in God’s image. Unfortunately, he desires to abuse that reality, forgetting that man was also called by God to be the steward of all creation, which comes with great responsibility.

I have two favorite parts of the movie. One is how all the creatures come to the ark and how they dwell in it. Very mesmerizing. The second is when Noah tells his family the story of creation as his fathers told him. This sequence is absolutely beautiful to watch and experience, and makes the film worth the price of admission. Again, the work of an artist, being viewed as a work of art.

I think that Noah’s actions, as the impending flood is approaching and through to the end of the film, are the most controversial aspects of the film. Great license is taken here. But I applaud the writers for their insights and creativity. Without giving it away, I will just say that I found myself wondering what temptations the real Noah must have gone through during this whole ordeal. The film portrays Noah as a completely obedient man of God, much like Abraham, willing to go as far as slaughtering your own child because it’s God’s will. The writers of the film clearly present their idea of what might have transpired. It’s disturbing and absolutely intriguing at the same time. Each of the other family members respond to Noah with just as much intrigue.

Go see it for yourself before it leaves the theater (it’s definitely a movie that has to be seen on the big screen). I believe that this film will have many people considering the beauty and reality of a Creator (which is a heavy theme of this film) and going to the Bible curious as to what the story of Noah actually says. Perhaps there actually are those who will look to find out if the rocks came to the aid of Noah.

Sex fogs the mind.

Love is in the will.

When a man and a woman get married, they pledge their love to each other with the words “I do.” That “I do” is a consent of the will. Our will is that aspect of us that decides and acts.

The will differs from feelings and emotions. Your will is controllable. Feelings and emotions are not. Therefore, what the couple is saying at the altar on their wedding day (or what they should understand that they are saying) is that they will to love that person, despite any feelings and emotions that might be in conflict.

Love is a decision. Love is also a feeling, and very emotional. The act of loving is hopefully accompanied by feelings of love, but the feelings aren’t necessary for action. Before you get married, you have to come to terms with the “I do” of the ceremony. Being in love doesn’t mean those feelings will always be there to help you with the commitment to love.

This is why having sex prior to marriage can be a very dangerous enterprise. Sex fogs the mind. The pleasure people experience when they are engaging in sexual intimacy at any level has a natural effect that turns off the ability of the will. Sex creates a fog the mind is no longer able to navigate through, nor have a clear focus for making good judgments and right decisions.

The safe place for sex is within marriage. A married couple is free to express themselves sexually within all the rights that come with marriage. For those who are not married, the sex drive is alive and well, and must be dealt with. Many have given in completely to the modern acceptance of pre-marital sex without responsibility.

However, I don’t believe people have full knowledge of all that surrounds this acceptance. I think they have natural physical attractions and a healthy, normal sex drive, and they simply want to respond to it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with what they experience inside. It’s how they act that matters.

That leads us back to the will. All feelings and emotions surrounding the sex drive have no power to act. Only the mind can do that. Emotions certainly work very hard to convince the mind, but they can’t force you to act.

When there is a general acceptance that certain physical actions are okay, the mind is sufficiently deceived into doing some things that appear to be harmless. Those things fall into the realm of petting, embracing, and kissing. Tenderness during the dating process is wonderful and important. You can touch and embrace and kiss without being excessive or prolonging. But start French kissing and you will see what can happen.

Single people have the ability to combat this. It takes strengthening the will. A strong will is not easily distracted by sexual feelings. Faith commitments lie in the will. If you profess to believe in God, to love Jesus Christ, and want to do His will, you must conform your will to His Will. We say “Thy Will be done” in the Our Father prayer, yet we fail to strengthen our own will. It takes a lot of practice, and it takes prayer to build up the will.

And the love that is true and that lasts is found in the will. Are you able to love someone with all your will? Does the person you’re dating prove his attraction to you by having control of his or her will?

Love is not just a feeling. Love lasts when it is an act of the will. The feelings that are associated with love are natural, normal, and necessary. They have their place. But they cannot be put in charge. They cannot be permitted to rule. Only your mind is capable of rational, prudent, and wise decision making.

Sex is beautiful in its proper place and time. Use your time dating and in courtship to focus on each other as a person, building friendship, preparing for the responsibilities of committed love, and enjoying each other chastely.

Can I have a Catholic marriage if I’m not a virgin?

Dear Anthony,

I’m confused, and slightly worried.  I recently read an article by a respected Catholic author talking about being married to the person you lose your virginity to, that it is a fact the Bible teaches, and that those who marry someone else are not really married in the eyes of God.  It was very confusing to me, but I’m mostly worried because I am (unfortunately) no longer a virgin, but I have changed and become convinced of chastity before marriage.  Is it too late for me?

First of all, let’s make it clear that you have nothing to worry about.  Though you are no longer a virgin, as a Catholic, you are completely qualified to have a valid, sacramental marriage one day when you find the person you choose.  The loss of virginity before marriage absolutely does not disqualify you from Catholic marriage, nor are you “too late” in God’s eyes by your conversion to a chaste life after losing your virginity.  In fact, your conversion is God’s inspiration and gift to you which you accepted, and takes great delight in those who return to Him.

I have heard this argument before and understand the basis of the argument.  I understand how it can be confusing to people.  It’s not something you hear in your upbringing, or in your religion or C.C.D. classes. At least, not explicitly.

This argument is rooted in the Biblical concept of marital union; namely, genital intercourse.  The Bible phrases this act as a “knowing” of another.  To “know” the other means that you have had genital intercourse.  In the Old Testament, you see many instances of a man taking a woman into a tent where he “knows” her.  That act is all that is necessary to be officially married.

The person in the article you read is probably stressing the point that there is something very real and objective about the act of genital intercourse and becoming married.  Some teach that there is an exchange of persons in that act, and that “becoming one flesh” (another Biblical teaching) happens when you have genital intercourse.  Therefore, the person you lose your virginity to is the person you are married to, regardless of how you feel or if it’s legal by civil standards, etc.  It’s a compelling argument because it does makes sense based on certain Biblical realities.

It’s first important to be said that loss of virginity is traditionally a very big deal, both positively and negatively.  Positively, because two people getting married was celebrated.  It was culturally as well as religiously expected that the person you marry is the first person with whom you engage in genital intercourse.  Negatively, because if you were not a virgin at the time of marriage, it was cause for divorce.  Parents would actually need to prove the virginity of their daughter to prevent divorce if a man claimed after marriage that he did not know if she was a virgin or not.  And if it were known in the community that you were not a virgin, you ruined your chances for marriage.

And, of course, at the time of the central event of history, the clarity of the Gospel writers that Mary was a virgin was of strict priority for two reasons; one, the prophecy of the miraculous conception and virgin birth, and the intention of the just man, Joseph, who, by law, had to divorce Mary when she was found with child.  He could not stay married to a woman who was not a virgin (which, as we know, the angel made sure he did not further pursue).

Contrast this with today, when the chances of finding a virgin for marriage are remote.  For better or for worse, remaining a virgin before marriage is not a priority of the culture today.  But it is reality.  And we all must live our lives in reality, not in what we want, hope, or wish.  Therefore, it would be impractical, to say the least, to insist on marrying a virgin.

But how do we reconcile this with the clear Bible teaching about virginity as a requirement for a valid marriage?

The answer is actually quite simple.  As Catholics, we do not live our lives solely on what we read in the Bible, nor on our personal interpretation of what we read in the Bible.  Jesus Christ is the authority of Truth, and He established an authoritative body, which is His own mystical body and presence, on earth for all time and ages, with a self-appointed head of that body; the person of Peter, the first pope.  The Pope and all bishops in union with him are the official representatives of Jesus Christ and all revealed Truth of the Holy Spirit.

There is nothing in official Catholic Church teaching that says you must be a virgin before you are married.  When a couple approaches the Church for Catholic marriage, there is no question asking if you are still a virgin.  The Catholic Church allows marriages between a man and a woman with whom one or both are no longer virgins, and those who have been previously married civilly with a decree of nullity.  Non-virgins are welcome to the altar of the Lord in Holy Matrimony.

I certainly understand why someone would want to marry a virgin, or someone who has never been married.  Perhaps it is a desire to avoid possible diseases.  Perhaps it is to avoid dealing with another person’s ex-spouse or their children, or they only want their own children.  Perhaps it’s just that they feel it’s too risky, or they want someone who has also exercised self-control in refraining from pre-marital sex. It’s everyone prerogative to choose married to whomever they please, and hold out for someone who personifies the priorities they seek in their marriage partner.  Who wouldn’t prefer to be with someone on their wedding night who has never been with another person?  It’s a very nice hope, indeed, to find that. Yet, it’s not very practical in today’s world.  And it severely diminishes one’s opportunities.

Don’t be worried.  You are not a virgin anymore, like most of today’s society, including many Catholics.  But you are still very much a Catholic, and absolutely a candidate for sacramental marriage when you finally find the love of your life.  Keep up the good fight for remaining chaste before marriage.