Authentic Masculinity by Kev Ouellette

In our society today, the topic of authentic masculinity, what it means to be a real man, is either ignored or condemned.  Our society consistently attempts to blur the lines between men and women, ignoring innate biological, psychological and hormonal differences. In addition to ignoring natural gender differences, our society also wages a silent war against masculinity.  Many over the years have noted our society’s war on women by setting unrealistic standards of beauty through cosmetics, surgery, and editing techniques on magazine photos; however, less have noted our society’s attack on manhood.  By simply turning on the T. V. and observing with a critical eye, one can see that our media and television programs do not cast men in a positive light.  Current portrayal of men typically falls into one of two categories—the self-sufficient, talented, successful man, who uses those around him, specifically women, to gratify his every desire or the bumbling, weak man, who needs his wife to control him.  Unfortunately, both depictions of men fail in different respects.  Therefore, we need to explore what it truly means to live as a man.  In order to achieve this goal of identity, what it means to be a man, we will look a different aspects of manhood.

To begin, a man possesses real strength and the ability to affect change in his environment.  Men can lift heavy objects, endure physically demanding tasks, and perform challenging forms of manual labor.  God the Father has given this innate physical strength to men.  Now, not all men have the physique of body builders, but the size of one’s muscles does not determine the extent of one’s manhood.  This strength, seen in authentic manhood, appears in a wide array of forms, in keeping with the diversity and individuality of men themselves.

The natural power that a man possesses because of his strength scares modern society.  Modern society often seeks to strip away a man’s strength because it is dangerous; yet, it is not a man’s strength in and of itself that is dangerous, but it is the man who does not use his strength in the correct manner that is dangerous.  Author John Eldridge, in his book Wild at Heart, makes an apt comparison in regards to men.  He notes that a scalpel, the instrument used to make incisions during medical surgeries, is a dangerous tool.  It is a medical knife and knives can do serious damage to people, but in the hands of licensed doctor, a scalpel can save a human life.  In the same way, a man’s strength, although potentially dangerous, is something very needed in our society today, like a scalpel.

In addition to physical strength, a real man possesses an interior strength.  He lives within a specific code and is able to identify when his immediate desires run contrary to this code.  In a Catholic context, the authentic man lives after the model of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and the teachings of His Holy Catholic Church.  A man uses his interior strength to stand up and confront the evils around him.  In this way, a man follows after the example of Jesus, who was not afraid to confront the religious leaders of his day and correct their errors.

By definition, the authentic man is meek.  Meekness means simply strength under control.  The true man does not pursue every whim or fleeting passion.  The true man keeps his eyes fixed on the Lord and is able to say “no” to temptations as they arise instead of abusing his strength for his own gratification.

With this physical and interior strength, the authentic man carries himself with confidence and interior peace.  The man’s confidence comes naturally because he knows the true source of his strength, the Lord his God.  Because the authentic man knows the genuine root of his individual strength, he does not despair during the challenging times of his life; instead, the real man perseveres in his current predicament, trusting that his God will provide for him according to His perfect Will.  The man carries himself with peace and confidence in his interactions with others, unafraid to speak a difficult word when necessary for the good of a neighbor, yet always speaking with charity and humility.

Finally, the authentic man possesses a heart willing to sacrifice for the good of others.  A real man knows his strength, knows it is a gift from God, and desires to use this strength in God’s service.  This service may be simple acts of charity throughout the day, putting others’ needs before his own, or this charity may take larger more dramatic forms.  Ultimately, a man’s Vocation, whether to religious or married life, will require him to sacrifice for the good of others.  In his sacrifices, a man surrenders from a position of strength for the good of others, not because he is too weak to will a situation otherwise.  In this way, the authentic man follow’s Christ’s example in His Passion.  Christ tells us that no one takes His life from Him.  He lays it down freely (Jn. 10:18).

Authentic manhood, what it means to be real man, is not something that our society discusses openly.  Our society is afraid of men’s strength and undercuts men in its portrayal of them.  Nevertheless, manhood is a noble calling, possessing an innate dignity and value.  Real men are desperately needed in our society to rise up and live after the model of our Lord Jesus.  Do not be afraid of your strength men, of the holy and noble desires the Lord has placed on your heart.  Find other Catholic men around you.  Start a Men’s Group in your area, and refuse to live according to the degrading standards our society has set for men.

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Things Your Doctor may not Have Told you About Your birth Control

April, from the blog My Feminine Mind, recently wrote a thorough post on the various types of contraception and the side effects that your doctor may not have warned you about. These facts are not to scare you, but to provide an honest look at the physical damage that contraception can do to your body. Click on the link to her blog to read the post.

And thanks to April for sharing her knowledge and using her time to write this piece!

Is NFP Effective? by Ashlie Dill

Question 1: Does Natural Family Planning actually work to prevent pregnancy?

The short answer: yes.

The long answer: I understand why people may feel skeptical about the effectiveness of preventing pregnancy with NFP. Really, I do – because up until I started reading about it 2 years ago (and practicing it about 1 year ago), I thought NFP was just a lot of guesswork and rolling the dice. Since my cycles fluctuate in length, I thought this meant that I would not be able to use NFP.  I didn’t know that NFP did not rely on counting days (I was confusing NFP with the outdated Rhythm Method). I didn’t know that my body could produce consistent signs that would tell me if I was fertile or not. When I found out about fertile signs, I still was hesitant to believe that my body would actually give me readable clues to my fertility. I mean, come on. It does sound pretty crazy right? I also doubted my ability to understand the signs, even if they were there. Why?

With the rise of The Pill, we have received an increase of direct and indirect conditioning to believe that our bodies are not trustworthy; we’ve been told that our bodies do not possess a reliable capability to space out pregnancy without any chemicals or latex. Think about it. Think of all the messages you’ve received in health classes, from commercials, billboards, websites, the health center at your college: Use a condom. Be on the pill. You will get pregnant, so you NEED to practice “safe-sex.” Indirectly, these statements send a few messages –  one of which is that you are not capable of preventing pregnancy without these products. (And not to mention bigpharma companies are making a killing off of society’s dependency on their products.)

But it’s not true. You can prevent pregnancy with NFP and it’s highly effective. However, understanding and believing its efficacy depends on a thorough and accurate understanding of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Until you have a grasp of that, you will continue to possess doubts. After studying the menstrual cycle, you can learn how NFP works in conjunction with the natural fluctuations of a woman’s body in order to prevent or achieve pregnancy.

But don’t take my word for it. Before you launch into a comment-leaving rage, check out these other sites that discuss the effectiveness of NFP.

http://www.naturalfamilyplanning.ie/nfp-effectiveness/how-effective/

http://iusenfp.com/home/does-nfp-work/

http://www.lady-comp.com/en/page/effectiveness (this organization’s fertility monitor boasts a 99.3% effectiveness rate.)

Stay tuned for the next most frequent question on NFP.

Why do the Bishops and Other Catholics Oppose the HHS Mandate? by Ashlie Dill

On July 19th the Huffington Post published an article entitled Catholic Bishops Promote ‘Natural’ Family Planning Amid Battle Over Contraception Mandate.”  While I certainly have issues with the content of this article, I will choose to focus on the title because I believe that the title is misleading. It is true that the Bishops and many Catholic writers have taken the opportunity to write about and discuss Natural Family Planning (NFP). However, this is not simply a battle between NFP and contraception. While that conversation is one worth having, the Bishops’ (and other religious) opposition to the HHS Mandate goes far beyond the immorality contraception.

Targeting the Bishops’ stance on contraception is a way to distract Americans from the real problem that the Bishops have with the mandate. The true issue here is that our government is requiring that all employers provide health plans that include hormonal contraception, early abortifacient drugs and sterilization. These services must be provided by employers even if they have a religious objection to these services. Requiring that they provide these services violates their First Amendment right to the freedom of religion. Those who are opposed to the mandate are not trying to diminish existing access to contraception, even if they are morally opposed to the use of contraception.

In addition to having their religious liberty violated, the institutions that do not comply with the mandate will be subjected to heavy fines. These fines are not simply the coverage cost for birth control and other services, but an exorbitant amount. Here are the words directly from the CRS Report:

A group health plan that fails to comply with the pertinent requirements in the IRC may be subject to a tax of $100 for each day in the noncompliance period with respect to each individual to whom such failure relates. However, if failures are not corrected before a notice of examination for tax liability is sent to the employer, and these failures occur or continue during the period under examination, the penalty will not be less than $2,500. Where violations are considered to be more than de minimis, the amount will not be less than $15,000.

Yes. You read that right. That’s $100, per day per employee (from my understanding this only applies to women, since these “preventative services” are for women). That’s alot of money. Say you have 25 employees. Violation of the Mandate for just ONE day would cost $2,500. That’s not the end of it… There’s more in the press release from the Energy and Commerce Committee:

 Consequently, for example, if a self-insured religious charity or hospital with 100 employees chooses to exercise its religious rights instead of complying with the Obamacare mandate, it could be subject to a $3.65 million annual fine.

So, the reason the HHS department wants this Mandate is because they believe that a woman should have access to free birth control regardless of who her employer is. But if her employer chooses to exercise his/her religious freedom and does not comply with mandate, women (and men) will be losing their jobs because these institutions do not have the annual 3.65 million dollars to pay the government.  How is this really helping and protecting women? How is this bringing more jobs to the American economy?

Some people may say, “Well, women NEED birth control.” I disagree with such sentiments, but regardless of what I think on the subject the fact is that contraception is already widely available. State and federal governments devote hundreds of millions of dollars in annual funds to provide free or low-cost contraception to American women. 4,000 Title X clinics have provided contraceptives since 1970— 69% of clients fall below the poverty line. Over $300 million is annually given to PlannedParenthood and community health centers that provide contraceptives at low costs or free (Elise Kulik, presentation at the University of Michigan). Contraception is not scarce, and one who needs financial assistance can get it for very cheap, if not free. Why strip religious individuals and groups of their rights – rights that are supposed to be protected by the Constitution of the United States of America – to provide women these services that are easily accessible? In the video below, Representative Gowdy challenges Kathleen Sebelius (lady in charge of the Mandate) on whether she actually used the Constitutional Balance while drafting this Mandate and the ensuing “compromises” made for religious individuals and groups.

 

As the Bishops and others oppose the Mandate, please keep in mind that they are not necessarily seeking to reduce the access described above. They are not trying to make birth control illegal. They are begging the Administration to create an exemption that allows religious employers to act according to the beliefs of their faith – and in this case, that means not purchasing and providing birth control, abortifacient drugs, and sterilizations.

Many Catholics support universal healthcare, even some of the Bishops. But we cannot support this piece of it because it is in violation of our conscience and our Church’s teaching (a well known and well documented teaching, at that). When the government asks us to choose between our religion and the law, we will choose to obey God and the Church. Unfortunately, this likely means the closing of many Catholic and other religious charities, adoption agencies, hospitals and non-profit organizations. And as mentioned, this means the loss of jobs for both American men and women.

Please do more reading as I have only provided a very brief summary on this issue. Here are some links to helpful websites. Also, check out this video in which Helen Alvare addresses some of the issues regarding contraception, the government, religious liberty and the well-being of women.

Theology of the Body 101 by Andrew Hammer

I suppose that TOB 101 is probably not the best term to use.  After all, a college-level course would be much longer and more in depth that a short article could possibly cover.  To summarize Pope John Paul the Great’s 129 addresses* in a simple blog would be the height of arrogance, and probably not very readable anyway.  Nonetheless, any topic about human sexuality from the Catholic perspective in the third millennia would falter if we did not broach this subject.  So let us dip our toes into this ocean of enlightenment.  Perhaps we can, at the least, establish some ground rules and cover some basic concepts.

First ground rule: Catholics do not hate sex.  In fact we ought to be the ones expounding how great it is!  True, we do have priests and nuns who stay celibate all their lives.  But that isn’t because we hate sex, but because we love it so much!!  Who sacrifices something that isn’t worthwhile?  I told my wife I was going to give up Brussel sprouts one Lent but she just gave me one of those looks…you know, the one you get when you are trying to pull the wool over somebody eyes and they aren’t falling for it.  Arms crossed and eyes rolling back.  You know the look.  Anyway, Catholic religious give up what they value the most.  Not because they are weird but because they love God so much that they are willing to offer  this integral part of who we are as humans in order to bring Him glory.  No matter the vocation, celibate, single or married, our bodies and our sexuality point to God.  Personally, I get all kinds of looks when people find out I have 8 kids and they ask me, “Do you know what causes that?”  As If I could live in 21st century America and make it through the checkout aisle at the grocery store without figuring that one out!  But rather than be rude back to them, I simply respond, “Yes: a good marriage.”  (I can’t take credit for coming up with that answer but I like it the best, so I am going to steal it)  You see, one of the things that make marriage so wonderful and kids such a blessing is that when you live out Catholic theology in your life, your marriage is a good one…and your kids are a blessing rather than a burden.

But still, you may wonder what anything of this has to do with understanding God. So let’s bring this back to the Theology of the Body and begin by asking a question. How on earth can I be living out Catholic theology in my life as far as my body is concerned?  Or to phrase the question differently, how can my body be a theology, a study of God?

Blessed John Paul the Great

JP2 explored this concept in the talks he gave at the beginning of his pontificate.  His thesis statement was essentially this, “The body, in fact, and it alone is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and divine.  It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus to be a sign of it.” (Feb 20, 1980)  God is divine; we are human.  God is perfect and we are not.  That is a pretty big gap!  But Christianity is the religion which believes that God overcame that gap by becoming human; the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  This isn’t like “Men In Black” where the big bug comes down and disguises itself using a human form and then breaks out of that human form to reveal itself as a big cockroach (ew)!  This is God taking on our form totally and completely but retaining all His divinity to establish a connection, a bridge, for us to communicate with Him.  Remember that “sign” that JP2 referred to?  We humans communicate with signs: our words, body language, name tags, street signs, even the billboards on the interstate that we try not to read but feel compelled (probably because we still hear our first grade English teacher’s voice telling us not to skip over words but to read them all.)  Those signs are how we communicate with each other.

TOB tells us that our body is that sign by which we communicate with God.  As Catholics we already know some of this.  We fold our hands and bow our heads to pray.  We talk, we play music, we sing for Him.  We make the sign of the cross with our hand on our forehead, chest, and shoulders (this covers our minds, our hearts, and our burden-bearing limbs).  We kneel for worship, stand at attention, or sit to listen.  We can’t help but use our body to express ourselves to God because that is how we are made to communicate.  God on the other hand, desires to communicate with us by showing us Himself through our bodies; He reveals His mystery hidden since the beginning.  We can certainly read the story of God’s mystery in the bible, but God does not stop there; He does not rely on words alone.  He tells us that if His disciples were quiet, the very rocks and trees would call out His glory.  In other words, God reveals Himself through physical means: He makes the spiritual known through the physical.

TOB shows us that it is through our physical bodies that God is teaching us about Himself, primarily as He exists in a Trinity.  Like God, we belong to a trinity of our own, starting off our lives as children of a mother and father, a three-entity unit called a family.  Whether it is intact or broken, in a life-long relationship or through a one night stand, or even through highly scientific methods of extraction and implantation, our very existence is as a life formed as a product of the union of a man and a woman.  We all share the same beginning as a child.  When we grow up and experience a family of our own, our understanding of this becomes more profound.  Our bodies as man and woman (hopefully reserving this as husband and wife), acting in conjunction, produce a third person.  Our love for one another, expressed through the pinnacle of physical passion, is so real that it can produce a third person.  The male essence and the female essence come together in such a miraculous event that it causes another life to come into existence in a new act of creation.  We then share in the begetting of another soul that will grow into spiritual equity with ourselves.  For all of eternity, that child will be one part of the family trinity started with a physical expression of love.   How awesome a power is that?  And how solemn it should be… Our sexual expression, coming together in union as male and female, reflects the very nature of the Trinity. In other words, marital union is a direct reflection of the Triune love!

Our acts of our sexuality, therefore, should not be something that we parade about and put on display at the checkout line.  As Catholics, we should embrace the fullness of what TOB teaches us: that our sexuality is the most sacred thing that we have, because it is a representation, a sign of God’s abundant love. To be sexual is to be human.  And to be human is to be striving to be worthy of the divine.  For that is why we were made.

*     John Paul II gave 129 talks between September 1979 and November of 1984 which have become known as the Theology of the Body.  Quotes by JP2 are referenced by the date of the talk

Having a Minor Freak Out Moment by Ashlie Dill

Today is the day. The day that I have long awaited. It is the day (that the Lord has made and) that iusenfp.com launches! Give this site a look if you are at all interested in natural methods of family planning. And if you’re a little nervous about it, I think their information will help sooth your nerves.

This definitely ain’t your high school health class. The (awesome) stuff you can and should know about your cycle (or about your wife’s cycle) is explained throughout the website. Check out The Science of the Mucus for starters (and learn to love the word mucus. or fluid. take your pick). You can also find descriptions of the various types of fertility awareness and the science that goes behind it. They even have a quiz to help you figure out which method may be the best for you! Super sweet.

As you meander through the website, take some time to read the blog posts about people’s personal thoughts on NFP…including my absolute all-time most favorite piece by Simcha Fisher “How to Ruin Your Marriage with NFP” – and now you’re like whaaaaat? Ruin my marriage with NFP? Ashlie, I thought you said NFP is good for marriages? Read the article and find out what the heck Simcha is talkin bout…

Onto my favorite part: the store. I love the store because it has great products that promote environmentally friendly feminine hygiene and some awesome NFP tools (shopping + NFP = these are a few of my favorite things). I personally would love to invest in a LadyComp. Another plus about the store is that iusenfp.com will get 4% of the proceeds if you buy the products on their site (without raising the price for the buyer, mind you!). This money will go towards the mission and continuation of iusenfp.com. So you get cool stuff and support the site. Win-Win.

Follow @iusenfp on Twitter for updates.

1flesh.org Comments on Melinda Gates’ “No Controversy” Campaign

Photo Credit: 1flesh.org

Do yourself a favor and give yourself a tour of the 1flesh.org website, and while you’re at it, read up on the whole Melinda Gates issue. 1flesh gives a thorough response to why Melinda Gates’ campaign is ineffective – check it out by clicking on the photo! Also, give a looksy the video posted yesterday about why teaching people the Billings Method is better than handing out contraception.

Sisterhood Envy by Katie Krouchick

Looking in the mirror, I observed very carefully what I saw. Within 5 seconds, I had mentally noted about 20 things that I would change if I could. It’s always frustrating the moment you realize, “Oh wait, I can’t lose 10 pounds in an hour.” So I did what I could – put on as much make-up as it took to hide my face, dressed myself in clothes showing just enough without revealing too much, and then went for a walk around the dorm to see what everyone else looked like. All that mattered was how I looked compared to the other girls…

Photo Credit: Found on the blog Wonderfully Made

That was me nearly 5 years ago. I was a naïve college freshman, and I’ll admit – I was pretty darn vain. I worried about my waist, my bra size, how I looked in a tight dress, and if I could pass for a 21-year old in certain venues. It’s important to note, though, that this was all relative. Imagine all of these factors on a line graph – there’s my one little line, and I’m surrounded every other women in my vicinity. There must have been a point growing up where I was introduced to this fabricated measurement, against which I (and all other women) would compare myself. While I’ve certainly matured, and my ways of coping with self-worth are now much healthier, it’s still a struggle. This insecurity manifests itself in countless ways for all women. A woman’s battle with self-worth could be equivocated to a man’s battle with lust. It is a struggle that can end up being life-long for many of us. The devil loves attacking us in the physical, and because of it so many women find themselves with eating disorders, patterns of promiscuity, abusive relationships, along with other self-destructing habits.

Why do you think we do all this? Is it because we’re desperate to find the perfect man, that we think won’t love us if we’re anything less than what he sees on the cover of Cosmo? That might be part of it. But I think it roots deeper than that. When a woman loses conviction in her dignity as a daughter of God, she is hard-pressed to acknowledge that dignity in other women as well. We begin to turn the beautiful notion of femininity into an unwanted burden, and we start to despise what God had intended as a gift. We have fallen away from the unwavering source of love, and have forgotten what we were created for.

This unanimous loss of self-worth has resulted in an increase in envy, vanity, and pride. Think of how many times you’ve gone out with a friend and thought, “she looks better than me, I have no chance,” or, “she’s not looking her best tonight, this works great for me.” It even extends beyond ourselves and begins to hurt our relationships; for instance, when on a date, how many of us have questioned the man’s interest when we look around at other women? Our deep longing for love has been distorted into something impure and vicious.

The evil one has planted the thought in our heads, “I’m not good enough. Therefore, no other woman should be either.” This goes against our innate making as the body of Christ! The more we critique our sisters, the more faults we find in ourselves.  The more we envy those around us, the less able we are to fall into a true love that extends beyond the superficial. When we build up our sisters, however, we are building up the Kingdom of God. So to show you what a true sisterhood should look like, let’s look at our Mother. Mary, Mother of God, Queen of  Peace, Gate of Heaven…our momma.

Being the new Eve, she was (and still is) the model woman. She demonstrated every virtue with perfection. She guides and protects virtue in each of us. She takes all of our worries, all of our concerns, all of our desires, and offers them to our Lord. She looks upon each one of us with a deep love and affection, and desires only our closeness to her Son. This is Mary as mother.

Immaculately conceived, she had no sin. She envied no woman – she did not think her self better or worse than anyone. She knew who she was by the wisdom God granted to her. And she offered everything she had back to the Lord, turning all praise back to Him. She was a woman of God, seeking only to do His will. This is Mary as daughter.

When Mary heard of Elizabeth conceiving, she went ”with haste” to be with her. Mary may have been carrying our LORD in her womb, but she saw it fitting to forget herself and be with her cousin. She stayed with Elizabeth through pregnancy and childbirth, recognizing the significance of this time in her cousin’s life. Mary had more than enough to be concerned about with herself, but was so filled with love for Elizabeth that she made her a priority. This is Mary as sister.

Mary’s sisterhood was so strong that Elizabeth immediately offered her beautiful affirmation: “Blessed are you among women, blessed is the fruit of your womb.” When is the last time we affirmed a friend like that? Certainly, none of us are on par with our Lady, but we all have dignity, and we are all blessed. Do you think either Mary or Elizabeth felt any jealousy towards one another at all? Do you think there was any hostility in that relationship? No. They genuinely loved one another. Elizabeth affirmed the Christ in Mary. Ladies, let’s follow their lead.

We are of fallen nature, there’s no denying that. We will continue to struggle with issues of self-worth, but that should not mean that we bring down our sisters. We are each created uniquely and beautifully, and all of us are made in the image of our God. When we let our pride infect our relationships, we tear down not only ourselves, but all those around us.

No more competition. No more coveting what belongs to another woman. Love what the Lord has given you, and trust that it is as it should be. If we can truly love our sisters, and pray for an abundance of blessings in their lives, all of us will see the fruit. If you’re in doubt, look to our Blessed Mother. She knew her own worth and where it came from, she showed perfect charity in her sisterhood, and look how things turned out for her – got her Joseph, and bore the greatest fruit of all time, our Lord Jesus Christ. How ‘bout an amen for that?