7 Things Charting Taught Me c/o Cassie Wilson

Natural Family Planning and Fertility Awareness Method are typically associated with married couples trying to achieve or avoid pregnancy…. but fertility awareness encompasses more than pregnancy achievement/avoidance. It’s a refreshing, holistic, reverent way to view the body of a woman and the way it is designed.

Cassie Wilson, a young adult Catholic, shares what she has learned through charting her cycles and diving deeper into the understanding of her feminine genius. Click here to read about what she learned.

You can follow her on twitter @cassiedrajw


Fill These Hearts

Christopher West’s new book has hit the shelves! It’s called Fill These Hearts: God, Sex and the Universal Longing. I haven’t read it yet, but you can bet that’s it’s jumping to the top of my reading list.

Want to know a little more about the book? Check out the video below and the book’s website.

Bruno Mars and The Universal Longing

A few weeks ago, while riding in the car with my roommate, the song “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars came on the radio. I made an offhand comment about how the song was “nasty” and made a move to change the station, but my much wiser(and, perhaps,much less jaded) roommate made the comment that she believed Bruno Mars was onto something profound. She and I have both been amateur students of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and she expressed to me that she thought that Mr. Mars, in what might not be deemed as the century’s most subtle or poetic presentation, was brushing elbows with Truth in a major way. Upon arriving home, I did a quick Internet search for the lyrics and, after a time of reflection, came to agree with my holy-sex-savvy housemate. Let’s break it down:

Verse 1

Never had much faith in love or miracles

Never wanna put my heart on the line.

But swimming in your world is something spiritual

I’m born again every time you spend the night

Bruno tells us that he has always been reticent to offer himself to romantic partners due to his lack of belief in love’s veracity, but upon his acknowledgment that sex with the subject of this song is far more than just a physical undertaking, he feels compelled to “put his heart on the line,” that is, to give of himself with more fullness and depth than he previously had. This is consistent with the teachings of our former Pope. True romantic love, and the rightly ordered sexual expression that is the privilege which comes along with it, impels us to make full gifts of ourselves to our partners, both body and soul. Married love, which is meant to be a visible sign of the invisible nature of God, demands that we love one another the way that the Lord loves us: Freely, Faithfully, Fruitfully, and Totally. To do this, we must be willing to risk putting our hearts on the line, to entrust the fullness of our bodies(this includes our fertility) to our lovers, and to live in the the complete faithfulness that can be ensured only by the bonds of Holy Matrimony.

Verse 2

You bring me to my knees

You make me testify

You can make a sinner change his ways

Open up your gates cause I can’t wait to see the light

And right there is where I wanna stay

Bruno is getting real in this verse. The man is about to testify, and I don’t blame him. Contrary to what our increasingly anti-Catholic culture might want you to think, the Church views sexuality as great and glorious good. The pleasure that we humans are blessed to experience in the context of the sexual act is a GIFT from God and a foretaste of the unimaginable bliss that we will (with God’s grace) one day experience in Heaven. The blessing of sex OUGHT to make us testify to the goodness of our loving God and this little taste of Heaven better be getting us seriously pumped up for the hereafter.

“You can make a sinner change his ways,” says Mars. This line reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Fulton Sheen, who says it much better than I ever could:

        “When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.”

Amen, brother.

This particular verse is just chock-full of theological truth. Maybe he knows it, or maybe he doesn’t, but Bruno Mars is using STRAIGHT UP BIBLICAL LANGUAGE when he asks his lover to open up her gates. I’m serious. Open up to the Song of Songs (one of the most beautiful and, might I say, sexy, parts of the Holy Bible)and check out 4:12 and 5:2. Tell me you don’t see it too.

Bridge and Chorus

Can’t I just stay here?

Spend the rest of my days here?

Cause you make feel like, I’ve been locked out of heaven

For too long

As I mentioned earlier, sex serves the dual purpose of facilitating married relationships (this inherently includes procreation) as well as imaging the relationship between Christ and His Church (His free, faithful, total, and fruitful love) and giving us a sneak preview of the joy of Heaven. God has designed sex to draw us closer to our spouses, to become one flesh with them, but, ultimately, spousal relationships are designed to draw us to our true and eternal Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. Love makes us desire moments that last forever because, from the very moment of our conception, we have been yearning for forever-ness with the Lord.

Since the commercial release of “Locked Out of Heaven,” the song has charted in the top ten of 20 different countries, has been downloaded hundreds and hundreds of thousands of times, reached number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for five consecutive weeks, and gets played (from what I can tell, anyway) about every 1.5 seconds on the radio. Why the raging success? Well, besides the catchy melodies and irresistible beats, of course, I think it’s because this song hits home for humanity. Even though I’m fairly certain he didn’t do it on purpose(but, hey, anything’s possible!), Bruno Mars has touched upon the universal longing of every human heart-to be in Heaven- and he has managed to figure out that God uses our sexuality in a powerful way to get us there. Although most people aren’t aware of all these deep theological truths, I believe that truth is written by God in each of our hearts, so that, when we hear the it, it resonates deeply with us, even when we don’t necessarily give our consent to it. God is God of the present day (and every day) and He is willing to use every medium necessary to win the hearts of His people back to Himself, no matter how depraved we may have tried to make them. The Lord, today, is using art, movies, music, yes, sex to take us to Paradise (you know it, Bruno!) with Him. Even though our own sinfulness has often marred the true beauty of these instruments, our God of transformation will continue to use them as an avenue to hand us the keys to His Kingdom, and He will never allow us to remain locked out.

Marriage, the Church and the Eucharist by Rebecca Barclay

From the beginning of the book of Genesis to the end of the Bible in the book of Revelation, God chose to use the imagery of marriage to show us the relationship He desires to have with His people. Because the human person has been created as a body-soul unity, God uses the physical realities to reveal to us the deeper meaning behind spiritual realities. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” Romans 1:19-20.

I would like to write specifically about the relation between Marriage, the Church and the Eucharist (the Eucharist according to the beliefs of the Catholic Church). This is an inexhaustible subject and all the time in the world would not be enough to penetrate into the depths of this great Mystery.

Like I said, marriage is what God chose to reveal to us the type of relationship He wants with us. So we must begin by asking what is marriage and what does the word of God show us about marriage? Marriage was established ‘in the beginning’ when man was created:
“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Genesis 2:18-24

In this passage we are given the ‘steps’ of marriage: “a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” From this verse we can see 3 chronological steps that occur in the ‘process’ of marriage. The first is a man leaves his father and his mother. The leaving of one’s father and mother shows that there is a certain type of commitment that must take place. Adam did not have a father or a mother, and so this verse has been given for all those after Adam—to us. In the spousal love between a man and a woman there must be a commitment. This committed love is an essential part of spousal love. Leaving one’s own family signifies the commitment to a new family, a new beginning, new life. The second step is ‘cleaves to his wife.’ This is the marriage ceremony. At the marriage ceremony the spouses cleave to each other. They commit themselves to each other by the total and complete gift of self. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The spouses seal their consent to give themselves to each other through the offering of their own lives” (paragraph 1621). The third step is “and they become one flesh.” It is only once there has been the act of commitment and the offering of self, that a man and woman ‘become one flesh’ in the marital embrace. The marital embrace is the consummation of this love. From this moment on, each time the couple again embrace each other in the marital embrace, it is a renewal of their wedding vows. The marital embrace is a re-presentation of the total and complete gift of self offered at the wedding ceremony and fulfilled in the “becoming of one flesh.” It makes present again the offering of the bodies. The union that takes place between the man and woman in the bodies signifies the total and complete gift of self to the other.

And this is the type of relationship God desires to have with us. And Jesus Christ, taking the image that God Himself has given us, brought about and fulfilled the marital union between God and His people. He did this through the Incarnation, His Passion and Cross, and the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Coming down from Heaven, God is now God-with-us. In Jesus Christ, humanity has been wed to a divine Person and now God is with us. Jesus, leaving his Father, became man for us. And 33 years later, He also left his Mother Mary, for us. Can you imagine the dialogue between Christ and Mary before He left for Jerusalem? The trust that Mary had, knowing that her Son has been destined for “the rise and fall of many” and to be a “sign of contradiction” (Luke 2:33). The depths of Jesus’ love for us, to leave his home, his friends, his family, to embark on a journey of suffering, pain and sin, and death—for us. He who knew not sin came to know sin, for us. In the Garden of Gethsemane we see the free consent and commitment of Christ to us, as He prays only for the Father’s will to be done. Here is the beginning of the wedding ‘process’, the process of total self-giving. Jesus, choosing to give himself to us, unites His will to the Father’s and “moves towards the wedding day and ceremony”. The process of total self-giving reaches its fulfillment on the Cross. When all that could be given had been given, God said “it is consummated”—it is finished. Whenever a man and woman have made this commitment, given themselves to each other, and when the two have become one, God says “it is consummated.” The process of the total giving of self has been finished when the two become one.

When Christ “slept the sleep of death” on the Cross, God brought forth from His side the Church. And this is signified by the blood and water which gushed forth from the pierced heart of Jesus. The water represents the waters of baptism, by which one enters into the Church. And the blood represents the blood of Christ, the blood of the Eucharist, through which we are able to receive Christ’s total gift of self. By Christ’s total gift of self on the Cross, man is able to receive Christ so that the “two may become one.”

Every time a husband and wife become one again through the marital embrace this is what is happening: the husband and wife are making present again the gift of themselves and the gift of their bodies (signifying their total gift) that they presented to God and to each other on their wedding day. Every time the husband and wife become one flesh, the bridegroom gives himself completely to the bride—to be received by the bride; and the bride is completely open to receiving the bridegroom. When the wife receives the husband into her body, she is receiving his love and his very life into her. And he is implanting the very seeds of life which could very well grow until a life is fully formed in her. The two, husband and wife, have become one, and very often bring forth another, a child. The two have become one have become three…it is here that the family of man most fully mirrors the family of God.

And how does this happen between Christ and His Church? “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is a profound one, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church…” (Ephesians 5:31-32). This is where the heart of the Mass, the Eucharistic celebration, comes into play.

Mass is re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. It is not a re-sacrificing—the sacrifice is not repeated, rather the celebration of the sacrifice is repeated. That is why it is said that a priest celebrates Mass. During Mass, the priest, along with the whole Church (this includes all the members of the body of Christ, not simply the ones present), brings before the Father the sacrifice of Christ that was made 2000 years ago. The priest presents again to the Father the gift of self that Christ made years ago. The Eucharistic celebration is a re-presentation of a past event and this re-presentation makes present the event being recalled—Christ’s gift, our “wedding day”. Each time we receive Jesus Christ (body, blood, soul and divinity) in the Eucharist, the two become one. The bridegroom, Christ, gives himself completely to his bride and the bride is completely open to receiving the bridegroom. The bridegroom gives to us His life and His love. Christ himself said “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day…” (John 6:54). Christ, through the Eucharist, plants the seeds of eternal life in us.

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