Bright Maidens: Your turn!

I’m sorry for my absence lately. I was concentrating on my family around the time my grandmother died and I was across the country to watch my oldest friend (she’s not that old, just 24) get married!

I’ll get back on schedule next week. Plus, y’all are going to be busy with Easter so you won’t be around to read it anyway!

As I mentioned in last Friday’s post, it’s your turn to help Bright Maidens fill the Google bucket. The more passionate voices we have out there, the better. Everyone is welcome to participate, as long as you are civil and polite.

Here’s the deal:

*After Lent is over, we will switch to a bimonthly, Tuesday posting schedule.
*We’ll alert you about topic in the week before on our blogs and/or on Facebook.
*You write your own take on that topic, borrowing our lovely Bright Maidens image, if you please, and link back to our Facebook page or blogs.
*Post the link to YOUR post on our Facebook page, in a comment on one of the three Bright Maidens’ links.

You get exposure, we spread the messages further, and, by the grace of God, we can reach the hearts that are searching!

We will not be posting a TBM post on April 26. The next post will be May 3 and we will keep you in the loop before then!

Thank you! I can’t wait to read your contributions!

Catholics for Choice!

Week Seven: Our Reversion Stories

“Catholics for Choice!” by Julie Robison
“Young Woman at the Well.” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day
“Becoming Myself By Getting Closer to Him” by Trista at Not a Minx

This is the seventh post of a Lenten blog post series called “Bright Maidens.” We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!

John Henry Newman says conversion is “nothing more than a deeper discovery of what we already desire.”

It’s easy to look at my religious upbringing and say, Julie, I’m sorry, but you’ve been brainwashed.

I’ve gone through the whole ordeal: infant baptism, First Communion in the second grade, Confirmation in the eighth grade, thirteen years of Catholic schooling and 23 years of (at the very least) weekly Mass.

Where does brainwashing start, however, and formation end? That is, after all, the purpose of religious catechesis: to teach how to carry on the faith; to introduce the child to God in Three, and thus encourage a relationship; to give proper and virtuous character formation; to give order to the soul.

I think many Catholics have been failed in this sense; they have not been introduced to the fullness of the faith in their younger years, given instead a bland version of Christianity, with vague mentions toward the more specific doctrines. No one is inspired by blah, and I am sadly not surprised so many of my friends are not really practicing this life-abundant faith anymore, as well as a few dear family members.

I wasn’t always the kind of Catholic I am today. I wasn’t always itching for more, or even really concerned with truth. My high school religion classes certainly didn’t provide much intellectual stimulation. I went to Mass every week growing up and didn’t think twice about the last time I went to Confession. I didn’t know if I believed that the Eucharist was actually the Body of Christ, and the wine actually became the Blood of Christ. I just knew the faith; I struggled explaining it to people.

But the Mass is where I came back; the Mass, and more specifically the Eucharist, is what caused my reversion. Newman also said, “Catholicism is a deep matter; you cannot take it up in a teacup.”

Catholicism is universal- going to Mass, you know the same Mass with the same readings and liturgy is happening around the world. One sees people of all backgrounds, ages, and both genders in the pews, waiting to go forward to receive Christ or a blessing. For those who disagree with the Church, I say this- it is easy to text-proof. It is a cop-out to Christ, in my opinion, to take one or ten lines from the Bible, and then agree or disagree. Catholics believe in context. We look at the Bible as a whole, just as we look at salvation history as a whole. The mistakes of men happened, and happened frequently; and still, the Catholic Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, persists abundantly.

It was at college where I was set on fire: discussions with my roommate and friends; in preparing to defend Catholicism for my Introduction to Western Religion class (I talked at least 10-20 minutes every class period as the “token Catholic”), as well as reading the Great Books and other great Catholic and non-Catholic writers; being touched by the witness of Christians of all stripes around campus.

The witness was not always positive, which could have weakened my faith if my zeal for truth and understanding had not been awakened so fiercely. When I was younger, I always wanted to fight for a cause: now, older and praying for wisdom, I knew what it was. In true Eliot fashion, I returned to the end, and made it my beginning.

I’m purposefully avoiding discussing any specific details of my reversion, for the very reason that everyone, be it convert or cradle Catholic, comes to Christ in their own way. In the Easter season, and especially as we are in Holy Week, the holiest time of the liturgical calendar, we are re-reminded that everyone is called to conversion. Every adult Catholic in the Church must choose Christ, and their heart is called to conform to his, out of love of him. We are in his Church because we are made for love, and so we love: ourselves, our family, our friends, our enemies, our fellow humans and, above all, our Lord Jesus Christ.

As Pope Benedict XVI said, there is only way to the Father, and that is through the Son, who says, I am the way. But that way is so big, it accounts for all who will come. God does not impose himself, but he always beckons us towards him. By finding new life in Christ, a person loses the worldly restraints and gains completion of who they always were and are meant to be. Not that finding Christ makes anything easier, per se, but it changes everything. The Word becomes reality, and are not just words on a page of a sacred book.

Flannery O’Connor’s 1955 short story “You Can’t Be Any Poorer Than Dead” gives an excellent example of what happens when religion becomes a subjective choice and not a pursuit of objective Truth. The stranger (“his kind friend”) is talking to the main character, Tarwater, as he digs his great-uncle’s grave, the man who rescued and raised him:

“It should be clear to you,” his kind friend said, “how all your life you been tricked by that old man. You could have been a city slicker for the past years. Instead, you been deprived of any company but his, you been living in a two-story barn in the middle of this earth’s bald patch, following behind a mile and plow since you were seven. And how do you know the education he give you is true to the fact? Maybe he taught you a system of figures nobody else uses? How do you know that two added to two makes four? Four added to four makes eight? Maybe other people don’t use that system. How do you know if there was an Adam or if Jesus eased your situation any when He redeemed you? Or how you know if He actually done it? Nothing but that old man’s word and it ought to be obvious to you by now that he was crazy. And as for Judgment Day,” the stranger said, “every day is Judgment Day.”

They used to be smaller.

 My latter half of my sophomore year of college was a particularly difficult semester for me, and I considered not returning to campus. My roommate and I both agreed I was being spiritually attacked by the Devil as prayer was a nearly impossible task; I was taking way too many upper-level classes while minoring in overcommitments; I was dealing with difficult post-romantic relationships. My sanity was saved by the prayers, love and fellowship of my roommate and my academic advisor’s family, whom I became particularly close with that year.

 That would have been a shame if I had left too, since my junior and senior years were really when I blossomed on campus. On a whim, that next fall semester, I began going to on-campus Mass on Thursdays regularly. This would set the stage for me going to Mass daily as a statehouse reporter, post-college, and the new model for how I deal with difficulties. In the past, I would just go for a run if I was upset or angry. There, studying in cold Michigan snowbank, where I was stressed out and freezing, running was not always an immediate option. So I began to re-learn how to pray. My dear friend Julia was an integral part of this, since we would make plans to take a study break around the same time nightly rosary happened.

I felt like I had turned a dark corner in my life, and there was Christ, the light. Even though I am twenty-something, as a cradle Catholic, I sometimes feel like the worker who has found his way to the vineyard at mid-day, receiving my equal wages alongside the early and later day workers. Every day is a constant surrendering of my will to God’s will: I’m impatient, demanding, skeptical, and easily distracted from priorities. By choosing Christ, every day, I am focused and grounded. Choosing Christ is about having a relationship with him; being part of his Church is integral to that, and participating in the sacraments is one way to show my love for him, and to get to know him better. The pay-offs are not always immediate, but I do know they have eternal consequences.

I desire God and so, I desire his will be done in my life. I am not convinced by the argument that one cannot choose God, or that one cannot choose to believe in God. That is exactly what belief is- a choice. Part rationale and part faith, belief is the logical action towards a seemingly risky venture. When you believe a person can do something, you believe this because they have demonstrated the ability, not because they actually did it. But Jesus already proved himself to us, which takes out the risk factor in believing in him.

This is the mystery of our Christian faith: Christ came, Christ died, Christ rose again. And yes, there are still times when I must pray the words of the boy’s father in Mark 9:24 – “I do believe! Help my unbelief!

Non-Christians like to look at Blessed Mother Teresa and say, Look! She struggled with belief and had spiritual dry periods- ergo, God isn’t real. But isn’t the fact that she persisted in the faith and did not lose hope in God and his great mercy despite these doubts mean anything?

The Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian life, calms all of these conflicts. There is only one Church who has stayed true to the Gospels, despite its occasional sordidness and wrong turns, with the help of God, and alongside billions of saints, angels, lay people, consecrated religious and believers of all shades – the great chain of time and space, faith and reason, intellectuals and the simple minded – all comprehending the same truth: that Christ is King, and came to save us.

And me- little me – who am I to argue? It is through the sanctifying grace and mercy of God that I am Catholic, and that I persist in my Catholicism. Pope Pius XII said, “The Catholic Church herself is an historic fact. Like a great mountain-range, she bestrides the history of the past two thousand years. Whatever may be the attitude toward her, it is impossible to escape her.”

Consider me trapped, then: freely, out of love, and most joyfully. The smallest taste of truth is enough to keep me begging for me, earnestly, and to tell people where I have found such nourishment: in Christ, our Savior; in God, his Father; in the Holy Spirit; in the communion of saints; and in Christ’s bridegroom, the Roman Catholic Church. I choose to believe, and thus hold these truths to be incomparable, and sufficient.

“When we have traveled all ways, we shall come to the End of all ways, who says, ‘I am the Way.'” –St. Ambrose (explanation of Psalm 118)

“After losing those human consolations you have been left with a feeling of loneliness, as if you were hanging by a thin thread over the emptiness of a black abyss. And your cries, your shouts for help, seem to go unheard by anybody. The truth is you deserve to be so forlorn. Be humble; don’t seek yourself; don’t seek your own satisfaction. Love the cross – to bear it is little – and our Lord will hear your prayer. And in time, calm will be restored to your senses. And your heart will heal, and you will have peace.”  — St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way

“Push back again the age as hard as it pushes against you. What people don’t realize it how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when, of course, it is the cross.” –Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being

Bright Maidens: Becoming Myself By Getting Closer to Him

 
Week Seven: Why We Chose Catholicism

This is the seventh blog post in a series from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!
 

Becoming Myself By Getting Closer to Him

When I was a sophomore in college, I lived in a beautiful Swiss town.  The Church that was associated with an English speaking high school in the area had canceled it’s English Mass, and the nearest Church was a 15 minute walk into town, with the Mass times limited to very early morning and 11:30 a.m. in Italian.

The cues at Mass were different.  When exactly was I supposed to go up for Communion?  There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the way people left the pews.  I always felt like I was doing something wrong.  What was the priest saying?  I had many excuses for missing Mass, and I found myself in the habit of going to Mass every other week (or less), not entirely happy with my quasi-devotion, but considering it better than not going at all.


During this time, I was going through a period of Hillsdating, and the emotional instability of it all wore me out.  I just felt so…off balance.  Impatient.  Quick to anger.  Annoyed.  Sad.  Highly critical.  What was wrong with me?  Why couldn’t I get my act together?  I didn’t feel like me anymore.

One day I went to open my mailbox and a small package fell out of it.  I happily looked at the return address and grinned – mail from my grandparents (aka, Grandma)!  I gleefully opened the package, my breath catching when a beautiful blue rosary slid into my hands.  My Lutheran grandparents had sent me a rosary?  Unusual, but not too unusual for my family.  The accompanying note said they’d visited Notre Dame in Paris and thought of me.  

As I looked at the rosary in my hands, I thought, “Oh yeah, maybe I need to pray more.  I used to pray all the time.  Is this why I feel so strange?”  Due to packing constraints, I hadn’t brought a Bible, a prayer book, a rosary, or any spiritual material abroad.  While making room in my suitcase, I’d left my prayer life at home.

Google it!

I viewed the gift as a sign of love from my grandparents and an invitation from the Blessed Mother.  After graduating from a Marianist high school, I was very familiar with the phrase, “To Jesus through Mary,” and I knew that Mary worked tirelessly on her Son’s behalf to bring us closer to Him.  It was time to take my faith a little more seriously, especially if the Blessed Mother was reaching out to me! 


“As mariners are guided into port by the shining of a star, so Christians are guided to heaven by Mary.” 
-Saint Thomas Aquinas

“Mary, I’m not quite sure how to do this,” I told her honestly, soon after the arrival of the rosary.  “Duh, Google it,” she responded.  “Wasn’t that the reason you didn’t feel bad about leaving your prayer books at home?  You said you could find anything you needed on the internet.”

Oh yeah.
So I started to pray the rosary, printed the St. Patrick’s Breastplate from EWTN and taped it to my wall, and began trolling all the Catholic sites I could find.  Almost immediately I felt a change in my heart.

But I still wasn’t going to Mass too often.

Beautiful lago
On Sundays, my group of friends (none of them church-goers) and I would sit on the balcony overlooking the lago, brunching and drinking cappuccini. 
“So,” one of them asked me, “what makes Mass worth going to one week and not the next?”

“Excuse me?” I sputtered, my stomach tying in knots.

“Why do you go one week but not the next?”  he repeated.

“I…well…Sunday Mass is really important…I shouldn’t miss it, ever,” I answered, feeling flustered.  The question from my friend suddenly seemed like it was coming from Jesus Himself.  Wasn’t “Keep Holy the Sabbath” one of the 10 Commandments?  Why was I so contentedly breaking it?

 “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice…Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.”  (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2181)

I wish I could tell you that after that conversation, I went to confession and attended Mass weekly.  Alas, no big changes happened overnight, but something inside me was uneasy.  If I was a professed Catholic, I needed to start walking the walk, not just talking the talk.  Through prayer and my friend’s probing, I realized I missed God.  I missed seeing the world through lenses of love.  On my own, I was petty, bored, cruel, and easily disheartened.  With God challenging me to love and grow, my world became “broad and light, not boring but filled with infinite surprises” as Pope Benedict XVI said it would.

“When God made your heart and every other heart, he found it so good that he kept a small sample of it in heaven and then sent the rest of it into this world where it would try to fill up all the love it could, but where it would never be really happy…It will never be happy until it goes back again to God to recover that piece that he has been keeping for it from all eternity.”  – Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
“You seem different,” a friend told me that summer.
I smiled and shrugged.  “Nah, just more myself.” 

Young Woman at the Well

Week Seven: Why we chose Catholicism

“Young Woman at the Well” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day

This is the seventh post of a blog post series called “Bright Maidens.” We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!

During His travels, Jesus came to Samaria and sat by the stone wall of a simple well. He asked a woman there for a drink, which was confusing for the woman because of the tension between their nationalities.

Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4: 10).

He proceeded to show her how much He knew about her, though she thought Him to be a stranger. God revealed Jesus as the Messiah to this flawed, yet attentive woman.

Jesus came to me in this way many times in my life, but I was inattentive and failed to draw Him a drink.

I grew up a cradle Catholic in a home full of people who went to Mass, challenged me to ask questions, and who stressed the need for a relationship with God. I was elected “Class Chaplain” all four years at my Catholic high school and my knowledge of Bible stories was above average (or so I thought).

(I don’t own the rights)

As it tends to do, life got busy. My child-like faith needed more maintenance and I started going through the motions of faith.

I recalled the Younglife, Protestant kids I knew in high school and how lit up they acted in their faith. I also recalled the few, yet loud, hypocrites who didn’t act like Christians, especially when they were damning me for idolatry, following the Pope, worshiping Mary, etc.

That memory made me cling tight to my Catholic roots and avoid those who asked questions about my faith that I couldn’t answer. My closest friends were those I met through the campus ministry in which I was involved in college, but I wouldn’t allow God to light my heart on fire.

In college, I transferred before my junior year, shaking my routine. Many times in my life I have encountered varying levels of depression and this shift to a bigger school and a new routine hit me hard.

My prayer life was more of a nightly whine session. I never once asked, “God, what do YOU want me to do?”

To my delight, a journalism training organization offered me an internship for my last semester of college in Washington, D.C. The binds of depression loosened during that semester as I met countless new acquaintances.

My D.C. home was a large dorm full of international students and professionals. Sadly, this meant it was full of several types of religious apathy. We partied, we discussed politics, and we enjoyed friendships based on a love of cultures as well as a shallow foundation of worldliness. I left D.C. with the friendships of those from several countries, whom I love to this day.

But I was still thirsting.

Next stop: Chicago

My next internship was that summer under the umbrella of an libertarian-leaning education organization and it sent me to Chicago.

The Chicago summer surprised this Virginia gal with its beauty (albeit chilly beauty that hovered around 70 degrees most days), the little I saw of it. My rented Evanston apartment was a forty minute commuter train ride away from my office packed with libertarians.

Libertarianism philosophy values self above all others and holds that a selfish rule of thumb supposedly serves others in the end. There is a slim chance escaping the black cloud of selfishness when it hangs in the office air you breathe.

It’s also tough to avoid the pressing questions from atheists, as the libertarian world is high in their number. The influence of a few atheists in the office had a deep impact on my summer. Their persistence and my lack of bravery in combatting their questions of faith steered me back to a dark place.

(I don’t own the rights)

I was in a strange city, commuting ninety minutes a day instead of socializing, surrounding myself with bad influences, and concentrating my conversations on selfishness and politics. I was the devil’s playground, complete with a dry, thirsty sandbox.

I started to wonder about the very existence of God for the first time in my life. I started to doubt it. I was doubting Him.

Deep in depression, by the grace of God, another question washed over me: Had I been duped? What about my two decades of belief? Was I finally un-stupid?

My resounding answer was, “No!” yet the doubt remained.

I was not an idiot my whole life prior to that summer. I had not been duped and neither were my parents, Godparents, or grandparents. All of the most loving, best people I knew were Christians, most Catholics.

I decided I needed to reclaim myself and my faith.

My fasting week

Crucifix? Check. Scapular? Check. Earphones plugged into Christian music? Check. Pretending to be tired and sick so as to avoid unnecessary conversation at my internship? Check.

My cleansing week was an attempt to bombard myself with Christian media and reconnect with the prayer I had begun to doubt. Push, push, push, I was going to give it a full week if it killed me. Something told me not to surrender.

On Thursday night of that week, I was watching Fireproof as part of my Christian-stuffing.

All of a sudden, at a mundane part of the movie, the Holy Spirit moved something in me.
“Jesus is waiting for me,” I thought.

(I don’t own the rights)

All He needed was for me to make the decision to let Him bear me. I needed to give up my path and give myself to Him.

Before the third millisecond of this thought process, I was clinging to my scapular, laying in the fetal position, and heaving through wet sobs.

Relinquish control. Give of myself to the One who was patient and excitedly waiting for me.

I reduced/advanced myself to the state of a child once more. I was a helpless rag-doll in Jesus’ arms, giving up my controlling greed and letting Him take my weight while I sobbed in gratitude.

This quenched my thirst and lit me on fire to learn more about my relationship with the Holy Trinity.

Inter-faith relationship

The Holy Trinity continued to teach me about myself and about our relationship. I began to feel more fulfilled than ever and I could finally consider myself “on fire.” Within a year, I recognized this passion for Christ in a man and it attracted me.

My ex is a Baptist, though I didn’t realize this until we were already dating. His devotion to Jesus moved me to spend more time reading the Bible. He was committed to abstinence before marriage, as well, so I felt lucky to know him.

We got in more than one “discussion,” at high volumes about the differences between our faiths. We challenged each other and our relationship required me to research and learn about Catholicism thoroughly.

Introducing the major issues: His mother and his father were not pleased with their son dating a Catholic and they let me know (deja vu, verbatim from the mouths of the Younglife kids). We began to recognize the irrevocable issues, so we started allowing chastity to fly out the window, with the subconscious hopes that a physical relationship would help hold us together.

We maintained our major boundary, but we definitely allowed our physical relationship to dominate. God made it very clear to me that this was no longer a relationship that served Him or His mission. It was my longest serious relationship and the decision to break up was the easiest I’ve ever made.

I began to heal again, stronger than ever, and surrounded myself with the newly researched Catholic teachings and strong Catholic friends.

The passion I discovered as a result of that relationship is for studying the Theology of the Body because it weaves itself so tightly into the understanding of Jesus’ example of true Love and Christian teaching. Theology of the Body is the perfect scope into the beauty and completeness of the Church and it was the sealing agent on my journey back Home to Rome.

Every moment of this journey cast me as the woman turning the pump, or hoisting the rope attached to the container of water from the well. Though I didn’t always do His will and I tread very close to where the devil wanted me, God still guided me to the side of that well.

God guided me to Him through the mediums of mistakes, doubts, and obedience.

Bright Maidens Announcement!

Thank you so much for following the Bright Maidens!  

Next week’s topic will be on “why we chose Catholicism.”  We’re taking Tuesday, April 26th off and will resume posting on Tuesday, May 3rd.

And…*drum roll*…starting May 3rd, you’re invited to post with us!  We’ll announce the topic of our future posts on the Bright Maidens Facebook page.  “Like” us on Facebook; write your post; then leave a link to it on the Bright Maidens wall!

Excited?  We sure are! 

Have You Filed Your Taxes?

I almost didn’t write one this week but, nonetheless, here is my volume 20:

one

Today is not, I repeat, not Tax Day. Tax Day was moved to Monday, because there is a holiday of some sort happening in Washington, D.C. Or, if you work at a tax law firm like I do, then every day is Tax Day!

two

Something I read for class, by Catholic Moral Theologian David Bohr:

The Christian life is like this. Faith is not usually a sudden inspiration that comes out of nowhere. Faith is a habit built up over time by doing faithful actions. Faith, as it was for the ancient Israelites, is not just a feeling or interior assurance, but is constituted in the real, material world by concrete practices. Faith is skillfully and wisely dealing with strangers, loved ones, money, genitals, and pots and pans. Faith is not usually something that comes in a flash of blinding light, but is built up over time by small actions like saying a prayer for a friend, cutting vegetables at a soup kitchen, putting one’s rear end in a pew every Sunday morning. If faith takes hold, these sort of actions and a thousand others become second nature.

three

Spring is here, finally! Still cold-ish sometimes, but at least I can walk outside with my shoes off again, feet squishing against the grass and cool mud.

More things I like about spring: driving with my windows down again, bare legs, shorts, spring skirts, playing and running outside with the family dog, weekend croquet matches, no more cold weather, birds singing, warm breezes, anything nautical, sunshine.

What are things you like about spring?

four

One of my best friends from college/ Kappa is at culinary school in New York and I miss her a lot. Fortunately, she keeps a blog. Even for a non-foodie like me, I enjoy it. She’s also been tying in Scripture verses to the beginning of her posts lately too, which gives new perspective. Check it out!

Vivy and me running down a hill in Georgia

five

My best friend (Bear-Bear, to those unawares) has an incredibly talented younger sister, whom I call Old Sport. Listen to her beautiful song here:

six

Doesn’t this song just make you happy? This website on St. Augustine makes me happy too– many thanks to Emina at Illumination for posting it! The libertarian allegory from the Mises Institute of Rebecca Black’s song “Friday” is worth a chuckle too; and, as always, are you reading WSJ’s James Taranto?

seven

We Bright Maidens had another lovely response to our post this week: saving sex for marriage. I must admit, I was rawther nervous about posting mine, but the responses, either public or private, were overall so gracious, that it made me feel very happy to share my stories and view point. Many thanks to Tito Edwards for featuring mine on National Catholic Register and The Pulp.It as well! AMDG!

In case you missed it:
“The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same” by Julie Robison
“Cut to the Chaste.” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day
“Three Strikes, I’m Out!” by Trista at Not a Minx

This next week’s topic is finally to be revealed…. REVERSION STORIES! How three cradle Catholics “re-discovered” the Church, and why we’ve stayed Catholic. Being friends with Trista and Elizabeth, I can assure the audience that y’all will be in for a treat.

After Lent, we’ll take a one week break, and then resume posts every two weeks. We’d like to invite anyone interested to write alongside us, and post it on our Facebook page! Or e-mail us the link, and we’ll happily post it for you.

Happy Friday, folks! See Conversion Diary for more.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Week Six: Saving Sex for Marriage

“The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same” by Julie Robison
“Cut to the Chaste.” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day
“Three Strikes, I’m Out!” by Trista at Not a Minx

This is the sixth post of a Lenten blog post series called “Bright Maidens.” We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!

After my sophomore year of college, I sat on a park bench with three close friends from high school, licking ice cream out of cones and giggling over the stories we told each other. I distinctly remember feeling blissfully happy; the weather was warm and windy, the ice cream was delicious, there were people all around us in the square, and I was reunited with three girls I had been close with since our freshman year of high school.

One of my friends mentioned her boyfriend making pancakes one morning and serving her breakfast in bed. I had the most sheltered college experience of us four– at my alma mater, boys and girls live in separate dorms and there are visiting hours. Without thinking my question through, I wondered aloud how he got into her room so early. Then it dawned on me: why was he in her room that early? With trepidation, I then asked, trying not to tremble as I said the words: “Wait, have you two had sex?”

She admitted they had, in a low, sheepish voice. But the embarrassment soon wore off, as the other two girls chimed in that they had done it too with their respective boyfriends. I had just survived a semester of awkwardness between one boy because I had turned down his request for me to be his girlfriend, because I knew it would probably get too physical, and I didn’t see him respecting me as he should. The rest of the evening was disappointing, as my friends eagerly discussed sex and their various experiences, and I- I could only sit on the bench, and listen.

My three friends are not the only ones; I had many more experiences of home friends coming to me in college to talk about how they did something they thought they would save for marriage. Most of these conversations were them lamenting their disappointment, but most of them also never showed a desire to stop what they had started. I was there to talk them through it, to discuss how things could have gone differently, and how the future is still for the taking. It was a distinct contrast from most of my college friends, who are mostly not sexually active before marriage. I even have friends who did not kiss before they were married, so the contrast I feel, as you can imagine, is sometimes sharp.

Yesterday, MercatorNet published a book review of Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker.

The review began, “It’s complicated. More than a Facebook relationship status, “it’s complicated” sums up the ambiguity, fluidity, and contradictions experienced by “emerging adults” in America–at least when it comes to sex and relationships. What’s simple are the numbers: 84 per cent of unmarried, heterosexual, emerging adults (ages 18-23) in America have had sex—a number that cuts a wide swath across religious denominations, political leanings, family backgrounds, education levels, and geographic regions.

Yes, I can think complicated is an apt term for most modern relationships. One of the most interesting parts of the article discussed the very term “premarital sex,” which usually happened before a couple got married- opposed to now, where the couple might not even know each other’s name, let alone stay in a relationship. I am always intrigued when people say that sex isn’t a big deal. Perhaps not to some, but doesn’t an inner crevice of one’s soul want it to be? Theology of the Body teaches that our bodies are modes of communication in this world and that sex is a form of communicating, from the depths of one’s soul. As Catholics, we believe God gave us sex to join two people in a spiritual and bodily communion.

So, of course it is natural to want to have sex! Sex is wonderful and life-giving! Not only potentially to a child, but between the couple. Catholics are certainly not Puritans. We love sex! Which is why we value it so highly and thus, protect it from false forms. The Church says married couples are a visible sign of Christ and his love of his bride, the Church, as are consecrated religious and the chaste single. There is good reason why a Catholic bishops have started to deny communion to cohabiting couples. They are having sex outside the sacrament of marriage, which hurts the sacrament and hurts the sacredness of sex.

Catholics believe that we are masters of our own fate. We are like heat-seeking missals, always seeking truth, beauty and the good. But we have to say yes to choose good. We choose God’s way, and follow the teachings of the Church, which are time-proven and guided by the Holy Spirit. People are happiest when they are inter-relational; living in just community with virtuous people, and can self-preserve these good things through the commitment of marriage, sex and children.

My family!

This is not to say sex cannot be treated otherwise. It is true- a person can have sex with whomever they please. But the freedom to do something and the choice to do something are two different commodities. I can have sex; I choose not to, until I am married. In the Old Testament, one book I especially love reading is the Book of Tobit. It is a really beautiful book and testimony to Jewish piety and morality, specifically to the sacredness of marriage and love. I remember hearing this passage at my aunt and uncle’s wedding; it follows after Tobit’s son Tobiah marries Sarah:

When the girl’s parents left the bedroom and closed the door behind them, Tobiah arose from bed and said to his wife, “My love, get up. Let us pray and beg our Lord to have mercy on us and to grant us deliverance.” She got up, and they started to pray and beg that deliverance might be theirs. He began with these words: “Blessed are you, O God of our fathers; praised be your name forever and ever. Let the heavens and all your creation praise you forever. You made Adam and you gave him his wife Eve to be his help and support; and from these two the human race descended. You said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; let us make him a partner like himself.’ Now, Lord, you know that I take this wife of mine not because of lust, but for a noble purpose. Call down your mercy on me and on her, and allow us to live together to a happy old age.” They said together, “Amen, amen,” and went to bed for the night” (Tobit 8:4-9).

Patheos published a wonderful article yesterday, “Friendship and the Language of Sex” by Tim Muldoon. In using the story of Sarah and Tobiah, he writes,

Today, our common cultural attitude toward sex is that it is a pleasurable activity to be enjoyed by consenting adults, with proper protection. The story of Tobiah and Sarah, however, suggest a radically different model. Their sex is a duet in a story authored by God, made possible by their free and willing response. It is embedded in a context of familial and clan relationships; it is blessed, as it were, by parents and friends. Perhaps most importantly, though, it is sex that is oriented toward a noble purpose, rooted in prayer, expressing a shared desire to do what is good.

… I want to suggest that what the story offers to us is a way of thinking about sex that is rooted in friendship. According to Aristotle, who was active only a couple of hundred years before the author of Tobit, true friendship is rooted neither in pleasure or utility, but in a shared striving for the good. Even if we grant that the reason why many people choose to have sex is because it’s pleasurable, we must ask why people consider pleasure important. The psychoanalyst and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl observed in his landmark book Man’s Search for Meaning that the people in concentration camps who did not survive were those that gave up on meaning, and turned to pleasures shortly before they died. Pleasure, he seems to suggest, is for those who have lost a sense of noble purpose.

What makes Tobiah and Sarah friends is their shared sense of acting in cooperation in the unfolding story of God at work in the world. At the heart of Catholic faith is a profound sense that God reaches out in friendship toward each creature, and that living in cooperation with God enables us to live in cooperation, in friendship, with each other. In the context of friendship, then, sex is to be understood as cooperation with God. It is the shared practice of an intimacy embedded within a larger web of relationships: with parents and siblings, friends, fellow pilgrims. For that reason, the Church has from its earliest days recognized that sex has a social dimension to it. It changes one’s relationship to the other, and the changes the couple’s relationship to the rest of the world.

It is holy ground.

Saving sex for marriage isn’t the cool thing to do (in the heat of the moment), or the easy thing (when you really like a person, etc.). But as we told my baby sister last night, as she was bemoaning the “awkward talk” her teacher was giving the class on chastity, no one regrets saying no and waiting for sex. We told 11 year old Boo how she was worth waiting for, and if a guy wanted her to commit her body to him, he was going to have to step up and offer her his lifetime commitment, not just a good time. The good times will come, as will the bad, and when/ if I have sex, it will be the most self-giving thing I can do for that person; because I’ll have to step outside my wants, and become a wife, and then a mother.

This sounds old-fashioned, but mankind truly does not change at the evolutionary rate we like to think we do. Aquinas said that reason should be our guide for morality. Natural law, therefore, has very much a relationship to sexual ethics. You shan’t be surprised then when I, budding Thomist that I am, heartily declare that “one should act rationally.” Not having sex when one is not married seems pretty rational to me since I

A) don’t want to be pregnant (yet)
B) don’t want to get any funky diseases (ever)
C) don’t want to be overly emotionally attached to someone I may not marry
D am, in fact, not married (and have you seen the statistics on single parenthood?)

These are all graspable realities which I contend with in my decision. The wide-spread use and acceptance of birth control and legalized abortion seems to cut at each of those barriers. But they do not take them away. Dr. Janet Smith says, “Natural law depends upon such. It rests upon the claim that things have natures and essences that we can know and correspond our actions to.” But I did not need to give you that vocabulary lesson. Somewhere in your mind, you already knew that. I merely put the words there, to remind you. This is the beauty of natural law! It is so natural to the dignity of our very personhood.

CCC 2353: “Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children. Moreover, it is a grave scandal when there is corruption of the young.”

Catholic young adults are biologically no different than other young adults, but as Christians, we are called towards a higher purpose in all that we do, and that includes sex.