Thursday, July 24, 2014

Given Up to Death for the Sake of Jesus

By Melanie Rigney

For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:11)

When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men dreaming. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with rejoicing. (Psalms 126:1-2)

“Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. (Matthew 20:26-27)

Lord, make us thirsty for Your wisdom.

It was on this day in 1968 that Humanae Vitae was released, the papal encyclical that affirmed traditional Catholic teachings on human sexuality, including the prohibition of artificial birth control. Some left the Church. Others stayed with a variety of reactions: they cheered, or they did their best to be obedient, whether that obedience meant using natural family planning (NFP) or after discernment (or, in some cases, not), ignoring the prohibition.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual National NFP Awareness Week wraps up tomorrow.  Last November, a USCCB secretariat issued a report that found diocesan NFP programs are hampered by lack of funding; about two-thirds operate on less than $10,000 annually, and only a third provide an annual report about their activities to their bishop. While most dioceses include NFP in their marriage preparation guidelines, there’s a big gap: while nearly 164,000 Catholic marriages were celebrated, fewer than 17,000 people took part in an NFP course or received instruction. The report concluded:

… When evaluating any diocesan NFP program, the most important pastoral leadership question can be summed up with a simple “yes” or “no”: Can couples who wish to be faithful to Church teaching on conjugal love and responsible parenthood readily get the NFP support they need? The answer to this question will determine how best to plan and support local diocesan NFP ministry.

I found myself chewing over that paragraph over and over again, thinking how it could apply to so much that is misunderstood about the Church I love. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but when I returned to Catholicism after more than three decades away, there were a number of potential dealbreakers for me: Limbo. The presence or lack thereof of non-Catholics in heaven. Divorce. Abortion. Contraception. I wasn’t coming back if I couldn’t sign on completely. And the more time I spent with the Catechism and other Church publications, the more I learned that the teachings were all based on love and respect and human dignity and that what was in my heart was not that different from Catholicism’s core beliefs.
My point today is not to try to change your mind on NFP or immigration reform or gay marriage or abortion or anything else. It’s just to say that dioceses and parishes across our country are pulled in a million directions today. They always have been. They always will be. We are unlikely to always get all the support we might need on any Church teaching. At some level, we’re each responsible for asking for help and reaching out for resources before we make snap judgments. When we do that, when we open our questions to the light and look for help in understanding, we may find that some of our positions need to be laid on the altar.

Spend some time in conversation with a learned member of the ordained or laity about a Church teaching you find difficult to accept, or ask this person for reading material on the topic.

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