Chastity in a Box? (with a Glimpse at YOU from Ascension Press)

Continuing with Book Week.  Box #2 raises a question that doesn’t get asked often enough: What part do chastity-education programs play in teaching teens (and grown-ups) about the right use of their bodies?

My thoughts follow, but first you should show know what was in the box:

YOU from Ascension Press.  I reviewed AP’s Theology of the Body for Teens: Middle School Edition some years ago, and liked it immensely.  A first glance at YOU is similarly positive.  It’s a much bigger and deeper program, and from everything I’m seeing among teens in the circles I run in (church-school-sports), YOU looks like a solid answer to a very serious need.

As I flipped through the books the other night, several things caught my eye:

  • The advice for how to teach teens is dead-on.
  • The parent booklet gets right to first things first.  It’s like they know they only have a paragraph to win us parents over.
  • The curriculum, as will the best Theology of the Body presentations, starts with the bigger picture, lays the essential groundwork on the dignity of the human person, and leads from there into a positive message about the goodness and appeal of chastity.
  • YOU is working off ideas that have been tested with teens over and again and found to work.  (Not surprising, given who the authors are.)

It’ll be a while before I get a chance to read the leader’s guide and parent guide (leader’s guide contains the full text of the student book) cover to cover, as well as watch the whole DVD series.  Thus I wanted to flag this series now, because I’ve got a very positive impression at first glance, and if you’re planning programs for your parish you might want to request your own review set rather than waiting on someone else’s opinion.

Where do ready-made chastity programs fit into the big picture?

If you phoned me this afternoon (please don’t) and asked me what I recommended for taking your generic typical-American-parish from zero to full-steam-ahead on teaching teens chastity, here’s what I’d recommend:

1. Start with a good parent-centered introduction to chastity, such as Family Honor’s Leading and Loving program.  There are lots of options for meeting formats, but (using L&L as an example) I strongly recommend investing the time and energy into spreading the program out over six weekly sessions rather than doing a single big-weekend event.  This gives you time for parents to get to know each other, to have time to talk with the leaders in detail, and to begin to form a small group atmosphere.  It lets parish leadership begin to identify the parents who are in the best position to help other parents.  It also gives lots of time for listening, and thus for learning where parents in your parish are coming from and what questions or difficulties they are having.

–> Make sure you’ve got the depth of back-up resources to assist parents with their concerns.  At a minimum: NFP instruction, good pastoral help with thorny marital irregularities, some resources for dealing with pornography, and access to support for parishioners grappling with same-sex attraction (personally or via a friend or family member’s situation) such as Courage. It’s no fair telling people they need to radically change their lives, then wishing them good luck and washing your hands.

2. When parents are ready to start sharing the message of chastity with their teens, do a parent-teen joint program.  There are any number of options, and many of them (Family Honor is an exception) assume parents won’t be present. Don’t go there.  You need the parents totally involved and on board.  Your six hours in front of an eighth grader are nothing compared to the influence of the parents.  Even if the program you select doesn’t call for parental presence, adapt it to make it a parent-teen program.

3. Keep working discipleship on all the parts of the Catholic faith.  Salvation isn’t about sex-ed alone.

Hint: Check out the Jesus is Lord program, which works for college students too.  Just sayin’.

4. Programs like YOU will have the most impact if you roll them out after you have a critical mass of parents who are actively seeking to foster chastity in the home, and a critical mass of parishioners and parish leaders who are disciples.

I’m not saying there is no fruit that comes from grabbing a random teenager who’s fully immersed in the wider culture and subjecting the child to a few weeks of Catholic teaching.  Good things can happen.  But the reality is that an hour of your life in alien country rarely makes you want to join the aliens, if you were heretofore perfectly happy back home in Depravityville.  More likely, you’ll go home thinking you met a bunch of crazy people and thank goodness you’ve escaped.

Making disciples is work.  YOU looks like it’s got loads of potential as a help in that work, which is why I mention it now.  But making disciples is long, slow, constant work.  There are no short cuts.

Related:  Registration for the Theology of the Body Congress (9/23-25/2016) is still open.

YOU by Ascension Press - Catholic Teen Chastity
Image courtesy of Ascension Press.

Pinterest Parenting: Behind the Scenes of Raising a DIY Pro

I want to show you my daughter’s handiwork and explain how it got this way, because it’s a story about what parenting really is.  When you are comparing your crazy life to some glossy home magazine spread, but it’s a real home inhabited by real people, I want you to understand that it didn’t come from nowhere.

So this is my backyard:

Isn’t it gorgeous!  That’s the little grilling area off the kitchen.  My daughter (age 14) completely overhauled this space a few weeks ago, with the help of her sisters.  It was her response to the three of them being kicked outside until they’d cleaned the place up, on account of their not being able to be quiet inside for even one hour while I took a nap.

No really, that’s the story.

Here’s a before picture. Just kidding, but yes, the place was pretty much trashed.

To the left, behind the grape vines growing up around the mailbox, is the famous green castle.  When it was first built the castle looked like this:

That’s the top two stories, and in the photo above you’re looking at a portion of the bottom floor.  It’s a bit worn down now, and we’ve replaced boards and added shade over the years.  We built it because we only had this teeny-tiny strip of private, fenced backyard area when our kids were little, so we had to build up-not-out for the play structure.

Part of parenting is using the talents you have (my husband did the carpentry) and the resources you have to give your kids some space to grow. This is what we had to give.

Even after this month’s clean-up, there’s still some trashy-looking stuff behind those red doors, but at least it’s down to all purposeful trash.  An example is an upside-down plastic flower pot that serves as a table during “City,” the kids’ economics game that is the successor to the even trashier (literally) “Medieval Game.”  They make up all kinds of sociological experiments when I kick them outside.

More history . . . See this cute wooden bridge leading to the seating area?

We went to Las Vegas to visit my parents some years ago, and in the early morning while it was still cool out, we’d walk around the neighborhood.  The front yard landscaping in suburban Las Vegas is incredible – just gorgeous.  The kids took photos of yard ideas, because they wanted a pretty yard.  One thing they all liked was a wooden bridge over a rock riverbed formation.  Superhusband built them this bridge for the play yard, and it connects to a second patio where we have a laundry sink.  That area is not very pretty, though it’s now 90% less trashy than it was a month ago.

Lesson in parenting: We’ve had all these moments where the kids recognize and appreciate beauty, and we build on that . . . and our yard is still mostly trashed.  They’re still kids.  Their aspirations exceed their self-discipline.  We’re still tired parents who don’t make them clean up enough.   But slowly the beauty-to-trash ratio improves, year by year.

 

Here’s some lemon balm my daughter totally stole out of my part of the yard, and put into a terra cotta pot she also stole.  I’m good with that, she didn’t mess anything up.

I love to garden, but I basically stink at it.  My kids have variable amounts of love of gardening, but it’s not like we’re this amazing family out singing hymns while we hoe all afternoon in the pumpkin patch or something.  We buy plants or seeds, stick them in the ground, and most of what we plant dies of drought or flood or some horrible fungus you don’t want me to describe.  But a few things survive, and we learn more about what will grow in our actual yard (the garden books are wrong and the internet is wronger), and slowly it fills with things that aren’t entirely dead or pestilent.

Every living plant you see in these photos was a gamble.  Life is a gamble.  You just keep trying things.

 

Aren’t these hanging cacti adorable?  They are a little freaky if you look closely, because they are leftovers from a life science lab on grafting plants.  She has to have franken-cacti because non-school plants are expensive.  She took kimchi jars (I know! We buy it! We don’t make our own!) and sawed off the tops, then made the hanging knotwork out of string that came from who-knows-where.

If you want a kid who does DIY’s, you have to let that kid just raid the supplies and try stuff.  This is how my home gets trashed. Yes, my home is mostly-trashed in the pursuit of either beauty or laziness, one or the other.

We fought bitterly over where she was allowed to hang her hanging candles.  All supplies totally stolen from other parts of the house or yard.  Hobby Lobby made zero money on this one.

Look at this pretty sitting area!  I got those curtains cheap when the girls were little, and they get used when you want to hang pretty curtains someplace — like if you’re having a princess-themed birthday party or something.  They are hanging over the clothes rods and clothes lines that were our attempt to make a place to store all our whitewater gear, but it didn’t work out and was a fetid mess.  Blech.

I still don’t know what to do with the whitewater gear.  It’s piled in my laundry room waiting for a new home.

All furnishings and accessories in this photo were raided from another part of the house or yard.  In some cases there was a weak attempt at either covering up the gaping hole or putting an almost-as-good item in place (like: a bathmat set down by the front door where that rug used to be).

Also, I got yelled at because that rustic wooden box had yucky insects in it.  It was super disgusting, I agree with her there — but she totally wanted me to drop everything and decontaminate just so she could have her coffee table.  Darling, part of growing up is learning to battle insects all on your own, thanks.

Final thing: The monogrammed pillow.  That was made by the 14-year-old express for this project.

Let me explain to you about this.

My kids have had virtually unfettered access to sewing supplies, including a varying number of rescued sewing machines, over the years.  Prior to the massive clean-out, this porch was heaped with a crazy-mountain of every kind of craft thing.  I don’t even have any sewing things, at all, any more, because my children have stolen them so diligently that now it’s easier to just make them do the sewing, done.  (I was never any good at it anyway).

If you want kids who craft — who really get good at developing their own style (I never, ever, monogram anything, no child picked up that habit from me), and thinking up a project and giving it a try, and eventually get to where they’re producing good adult-quality work — you have to let them make a mess.

Maybe you’re good at having them clean up after, maybe you’re not.  (I’m not.)  But you have to give them space, and let them experiment, and not be horrible about insisting every project be perfect all the time.  As I write this, my nine-year-old is baking cupcakes.  I just stay out of the room, and she can come ask me questions, and I’ll help her with putting things in and out of the oven when the time comes.  If they don’t turn out — whatever.  It was only cupcakes.

I let my kids play with paint, and now when I needed a patio table re-painted, I could trust a child to paint it as well as anybody.  I let my kids play with food, and now my son cooks dinner as his primary household chore.  My kids aren’t perfect.  Everything they do doesn’t turn out golden every time.  When my daughter took these photos, she carefully framed them to not show the less-pretty parts of our life.

That’s real life: Part beauty, part mess.  Sometimes you really need to pay attention to the mess, and sometimes you need to sit back and enjoy the beautiful.

Photos by E. Fitz, used with permission, copyright 2016 all rights reserved.

When People Tell Your Kids that Porn is Just Fine

I have a daughter who adores rabbits, and therefore she knows what porn is. “No, dear, you can’t have that particular bunny sticker,” I had to explain several years ago, when she was searching Amazon for, well, bunny stickers.

Why not? She wanted to know, of course.

“Because that’s the logo for a company that sells pictures of naked ladies.”

No need to discuss sex, or what makes porn distinctive. She can intuitively know, by the simple fact that she shuts the door before changing clothes or going to the bathroom, that selling pictures of naked people is wrong-headed.

She has a righteous indignation about the purveying of pornography because a perfectly good rabbit has been co-opted into the works. At her age, I expect she feels as badly for the rabbit as for anyone.

***

The children’s grandmother has a stall in an antique mall. It’s one of these old brick factories that’s now home to a hundred or so vendors of everything that turns up at estate sales. If you want a case of Coca-Cola, unopened, from 1967, this is your place. I have to stay out of there because my sponsor at Vintage Books Anonymous threatened to stage an intervention.

The kids have been going to help their grandmother keep her stall clean and organized since as long as they’ve been old enough not to be a menace to porcelain. They dust knick-knacks and re-fold linens, and put out the latest crop of dishware, and they love doing it. The owner of the mall and the other vendors who work the counter know the kids, and the kids know them.

This week while working at the shop, my nine- and eleven-year-old daughters, always on the lookout for bunny figurines, came across a basket of Playboy that one of the other vendors had displayed on the front counter of his stall.

It’s not just an antique mall anymore, it’s a porn shop.

“Does the owner of the mall know about this?” my husband and I asked, when we heard about it late that night. The vendors stock their own stalls, there’s no central merchandise system.

“Yes. She told him he had to tape the covers shut.”

Ah. I see.

We’re knowingly putting out pornography for children to find as they hunt through the acre of treasure.

“It was right next to the big display of pocket knives,” one of my daughters said helpfully. Because you know, boys are interested in those sorts of things.

Things People Tell My Children About Pornography

But they’re vintage Playboys. I got that argument. It was related to me secondhand by my children, who’d been told that by someone at the shop; I heard it again directly from one of the vendors at the shop. As if dusty porn were somehow not porn.

I told the story to the kids of Msgr. Roth of blessed memory, who preached one Sunday about living out your faith all week long. He’d gone to visit a parish family, and they’d realized too late that their porn was sitting out on the coffee table. They apologized and put it away. Not in the trash—just out of sight. “Don’t put it away for the priest,” he said to the congregation. “You shouldn’t have that in your house at all. If it’s not okay for the priest to see, it’s not okay.”

I don’t know which family he had visited, but I know that I got a babysitting job for a family from church that year, and that was how I got my chance to see what’s inside the covers of Playboy. Apparently church people don’t hide it for the babysitter, either.

But they’re taped shut. That doesn’t change the fact that you’re selling pornography at your store. You’re telling the world that it’s fine to buy and sell this stuff. You’re making the decision to attract buyers of pornography to your business.

But that guy who runs the stall is just trying to make a living. That’s right. He’s decided he wants to profit off the exploitation of women and the uncontrolled lust of those who find pornography so compelling.

I didn’t use those last terms with the children. But I did explain to them, when the topic came up again, that the suicide rate among women involved in the porn industry is astronomical for a reason. They can appreciate why.

Don’t Keep Calm, Don’t Carry On

“I can tell you are very emotional about this,” I was told when I phoned in my complaint.

Yes, indeed. Discovering that people are knowingly putting out pornography for my children to find makes me emotional.

There are times when calm is not the answer.

What kind of sick person thinks we should feel calm about this?

As I told my children, who were well aware I was in rare form over this incident: Women are dead because of what this industry does to them. It is right to be upset about that.

The reality is that we Trumpers think the exploitation of women is AOK. It was fine for those church families way back in the ’80’s, so why wouldn’t it be fine now?

One of the children expressed, in a later discussion, some of the nonchalance they’d absorbed from the world around them. And thus I explained: To tolerate the buying and selling of pornography in your place of business is to say that you think it’s just fine for girls like mine to be exploited this way.

If it’s not okay for your sister to be treated that way, it’s not okay for anybody’s sister to be treated that way.

Parents: Would you be willing to paste your daughter’s face on that centerfold?

Doesn’t feel so wink-wink-giggle-giggle when you look at it that way.

Related: Marcel Lejeune has good handbook out now, written for those seeking to overcome their addiction to pornography. Cleanesd: A Catholic Guide to Freedom from Porn is right to the point, and includes a compact, readable introduction to the deeper issues of the faith behind the right appreciation of human sexuality. Highly recommended for anyone who’s concerned about this issue, whether it’s a personal problem or you just happen to care about your fellow humans.

Cleansed - A Catholic Guide To Freedom From Porn

Cover art courtesy of Pauline Media

About that sweet ‘lil prostitute next door . . .

She doesn’t want to be there.  One of the most offensive and pernicious lies in the film industry are those “cheerful prostitute” characters.  It’s all well and good to write nuanced characters.  But the whole happy-whorehouse thing isn’t just cheap tricks for lazy writers who can’t think up real stories.  It’s the glamorization of something that, if it happened to you, would destroy your whole world.

***

I will spare you the thought exercises, since I try to keep this blog shiny clean.  But don’t tempt me.  I’m a writer, and that means I can make you see things you didn’t want to see.  Just go ahead right now and throw into the trash every DVD you own that perpetuates that lie.  And change the channel, forever, if you see it on TV. Thanks.

 

Verse and Censure for the Feast Day + Chris Tollefsen at Public Discourse

Since we’ve been speaking of wealth ’round here lately . . . a limerick for today’s feast:

When faced with a room full of clutter,

I’ve been known to piously utter,

“Help me to know,

what should stay, what should go?

Oh blessed Teresa of Calcutta!”

 

In other news: Chris Tollefsen writes brilliantly at Public Discourse today.  I’m a shameless Chris T. fan, so no surprise that I like the message.  But I don’t get to say it as often as I’d like: This is far and away his best piece ever.  That I’ve seen, anyhow.  Go take a look.

In places NOT to look: Front Porch Republic, which I subscribe to but very rarely read, because publishing just a snippet for the feed reader is a very effective way to discourage me from reading your work, recently ran a piece about liturgy and limericks.  The idea was spot on, unfortunately the chosen limericks were dreadfully lewd.  Really? Was that necessary?  No it was not.

To which end, perhaps not the most incisive wit, but making the same point as the FPR piece:

The rabbit who traveled by plane

said, “Security can be such a pain.

They opened my baggage,

and out fell my cabbage,

and I had to re-pack it again.”

The point FPR was making?  A good genre, delightful in its context, is not necessarily the right genre for the holy liturgy.   And another example, same rabbit theme, we have quite the collection growing*:

To my door came a poor little bunny,

who needed to earn some money,

“I’ll cut your grass for a dime,

one bite at a time–“

But in the end, the lawn looked quite funny.

See?  Perfectly moral, g-rated limericks.  It can be done. And the argument FPR wants to make is stronger when you acknowledge the genre isn’t used soley for smut. Show tunes are wrong at Mass not because Hollywood’s a den of sin, or because the cabaret / jazz / pop sound is always and everywhere associated with immorality.  It’s because these types of music are about something else — something that can be beautiful and true and good and inspiring — but it’s something other than the worship of God.

And thus a final contribution for today:

On the feast of Teresa of Calcutta,

this pundit is likely to mutter,

“You’re housed and you’re fed,

but your brain is half dead,

’till you rescue your wit from the gutter.”

Happy Feast Day.  Straighten up and fly right, FPR.

*The limerick fest began because, to my genuine shock and surprise, no irony there, my teenage boy does not love his poetry course for literature.  I was stunned.  A teenager? Not like poetry?  Really?  It’s all about love, death and self-centered dramatizing . . . that should be just the thing!  Certainly was for me at that age.  SuperHusband wisely suggested we begin with something a little lighter.  And thus I succeeded, not in converting my skeptical teen, but in launching a festival of animal-themed verse among the the two youngest.

I’ll take my victories where I can.

Meanwhile, any poetry recommendations for less-romantic, very modern boys, who mostly read Dr. Boli?

Rabbit Photo: Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

NFP Misery Awareness Week

Check it out . . . even the Pope has doubts about those glowing reports of NFP Joy:

“Surely in no way do we wish here to be silent about the difficulties, sometimes serious, which the life of Christian husbands and wives encounters. For the, as for each of us, ‘the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life.’…..Therefore let married couples freely take upon themselves the hardships destined for them, strengthened with faith and that hope which ‘does not disappoint: because the love of God has been poured forth in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’ With persistent prayer let them beg for Divine help. And especially let them draw grace and charity from the unfailing font of the Eucharist. If, however, they are still held back by sins, let them not be discouraged, but as humble and resolute people take refuge in the mercy of God, which the sacrament of Penance dispenses abundantly.

Pope Paul VI,On Human Life (Humanae Vitae)

Stolen from my Family Honor course work, where I’m getting piles of good pope-quotes.  Of course now my instructors, if they are goofing off here, know exactly how far behind I am on my homework.  But I’m catching up! I am!

For those who want awareness of my thoughts on NFP, here’s “Should NFP be Easy” over at my friend Sarah Reinhard’s place, and here’s another post on NFP vs. Contraception, which look, Bearing says you should read (and she adds helpful comments that cause it to make more sense).

Now back to homework catch-up time.

How I Fell Off The Internet

Mid-May update:

Latin Happiness.  At CatholicMom.com: In which I explain how I went over to the dark side and paid for flashcards, AND monkey-themed Latin-Lite videos. Also found some other digital person to teach grown-up Latin to the boy and I, and no surprise, all are happier for it.

Shiny happy feeling inside this author: The reprint is at Catholic Lane.  (Yay!)

A well-licked baby rat is a happy baby rat.  SuperHusband & I have been taking Family Honor’s summer course on Catholic Sex-Ed.  (It’s not called that.  “Cultural Implications” or something like that.)  Astute observers would have predicted: I’m really enjoying the class, whenever I set aside my natural dread of deadlines and obligations, and sit down to do the work.

Double-enjoying it once I realized I didn’t have to sit still and listen to the lectures, because hey, long stretchy headphone cords . . . I can workout while I listen.  Score one for online courses.

Right now I’m reading this, of which you can download the executive summary at no charge:

Hardwired to Connect

Encouragement for those of us who sometimes doubt whether all this parenting effort is going to have any effect in the long run.

Forming Intentional Questions. The other reason I’m hiding from the internet is to churn out a set of discussion questions for Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples.  Because I’m going to be part of a book club.  And so are you. Bwahahaha . . . more news soon.   Questions are written, and now need to be purged of typos.

Have a great week.

Book Review: Getting the Marriage Conversation Right

(There’s a book review coming at the bottom of this, but I need to lay out some preliminary matter first.  And this is a post concerning sex.  Not for children.)

To be Catholic is to be aware of a long list of my own faults.  Let’s review a few of them:  I goof off too much (not just on the internet, everywhere).  I lack patience for the most trivial of inconveniences.  When I’m irritated, I use my verbal powers for evil and not good.  I spend way too much money on myself, and far too little on the poor.  I procrastinate.  On any given day, there’s a decent chance I spent the time I meant to spend praying (not an exorbitant quantity) doing some other more entertaining and entirely optional thing.  For those who are familiar with the Little Flower, we could safely describe me as the Little Weed.  The anti-Therese.

And that’s just my public sins.  For every one you see on the kitchen floor, there’s a hundred more in the walls. If Therese is one of our few Doctors of Church, I’m guaranteed a spot among the vast number of Patients of the Church.

So be it.  Some people talk about so-called “Catholic Guilt”, and those people are invariably the ones who missed out — in whole or in part — on the real deal: Catholic Mercy.  If I don’t crumble in despair at the state of my soul  (and yes, actually despair is one of my sins as well), it’s because there’s hope for me.  Not hope that I’m going to wake up one morning suddenly meriting Heaven.  But because Someone Else has gone ahead and opened Heaven for me.  He loves me with His whole being, and will do anything — anything — to give me an shot at eternal happiness, mine only for the asking.  And not just me — He loves everybody that way.

My experience with evangelization is that few of us are converted because we suddenly discover how wretched we are, and thus desire to jump into the cosmic shower.  Quite the opposite: We long to know God, and having been drawn to Him, we begin to see, bit by bit, what life in Heaven looks like.  And what kind of baggage we’ll be leaving at the door when we get there.  Some things we drop like an old stinky garbage bag, in a flash of horrified understanding. Other things we keep stuffed in our pockets, sure they are part of us, or sure that these are little treasures we can sneak through eternal security . . . and it is only late in this life, or at the beginning of the next, that we catch on to the fact that, oops, we’ve been running around with the spiritual equivalent of a moldy rotten banana shoved in that coat pocket.

I’ve got rotten bananas in my pocket. (Usually only spiritually, though there was that one time I waited a month to clean out my tote bag . . . ick.)  But if your argument consists of, “Jen, you stink!” my response is, “Um, why yes, I do.”

I hate the topic of Gay Marriage.

Hate it.  Let me count the ways:

1) Because I know that the people who favor gay marriage do so for entirely understandable reasons.

2) Because I’m not an idiot.  I’ve known plenty of folks who favor same-sex unions, and who are, put simply, better people than me.  And they’re far and away better people than some of our rotten-to-the-core unrepentant clergy who’ve spent decades hiding despicable offenses.

3) The division concerning gay marriage doesn’t have its roots in questions about homosexuality.  For the last fifty years, the going cultural norm has been that whatever I desire, sexually, should be acted upon.  That marriage vows are no vow at all.  That children and marriage have nothing to do with one another.  That children have no particular need to be raised in a home with their mother and father.  That any parent-type figure will do just fine.

An aside: People have a hard time accepting that adopted children feel a genuine grief concerning their biological parents.  That very illusion — that your parents were unable to care for you, but hey, you have nothing to cry about — feeds into the destruction of marriage.  Something my dad said to me very plainly when he remarried after my mother’s death — I knew it, but he was absolutely right to lay it on the table  — was, “Your stepmother is not a replacement for your mother.”

It is a beautiful and wonderful thing when some loving person can step in and fill some portion of the blank left by the loss of loved one.  But it doesn’t erase the loss.  Acknowledging the loss makes it possible to delight in the sheer gift of this new and full and lively relationship, because we can accept it on its own terms, not pretend it is the other gift now gone.

4) A significant portion of the so-called Christian world doesn’t even acknowledge the horror of abortion.  An even larger chunk, including many people whose genuine faith in Christ I don’t doubt for a moment, think sterilization and contraception are AOK — desirable even.  And I don’t want to contemplate the numbers in the Church who approve or encourage the sin against purity we used to discreetly but emphatically call “self-abuse”.  Before you start citing the ancient Jewish law concerning homosexual acts, review the details concerning Onan, eh?  Struck dead on the spot?  Actions speak louder than words.  Disapproved.

5) I know that condemnation is the way of the world.  To ask for so-called “mercy” in the wider world is to heap condemnation upon yourself.  So I know that for many people dear to me, if I ever say, “Well, actually this one thing you’re doing is wrong,” those people I love will hear my words as code for, “Actually I hate you and I was just faking nice.”  Which isn’t true.  See my sins above — faking nice is not one of my virtues.

So to discuss gay marriage, at all, is to be accused of hatred.  I can discuss contraception, and people just think I’m a little daft.  I don’t mind that.  But I dislike the fact that to open this topic is to have a number of people I respect, admire, and count as friends, be tempted to assume the worst about me.  Well, the worst about me lies elsewhere.

[For the record: People hate you just as much if you talk about modesty in any specific terms.  Which I will be doing at NewEvangelizers.com in a couple weeks.  I’m racking up the voodoo rays this month.]

On to the Book Review

Getting the Marriage Conversation Right: A Guide for Effective Dialogue by William B. May is a short, readable booklet, written for a Catholic audience who wants to defend the sacrament of marriage, but suffer from poor rhetoric.  The assumption is that you the reader agree with the Catholic teaching, but perhaps you articulate it poorly.  You may even be currently basing your arguments on any number of details that simply aren’t Catholic.

Or you may be a Catholic who wants to follow Church teaching, but doesn’t understand why the bishops are so adamant about not allowing civil unions as a peaceful live-and-let-live alternative.

There is a single refrain that explains the disconnect between reality and popular culture.  The going definition of marriage in our society is this:

“Marriage is the public recognition of a committed relationship between two adults for their fulfillment”.

And let me observe right now: If this is your definition, it is logical to accept gay marriage.  Trouble being, that’s not what marriage is.  It is what civil marriage has become.  But it’s not what it is supposed to be.  Here’s the Real Ale definition of marriage, the one the Church is trying to defend, too little too late:

“Marriage unites a man and a woman with each other and any children born from their union.”

This is the radical reality that animates the entirety of Christian thought on marriage and sexuality.  Each child has a need to be raised by his mother and father.

Sometimes bad things happen — death, or serious sins such as an abusive parent, or a rapist father — that make this need impossible to fulfill.  When that happens, we have no choice but to go with the next best thing, whether it be single parenting, or remarriage, or adoption.  The next best thing, in the context of a response to tragedy, becomes the very picture of self-giving love.  Anyone who steps into fill the void for a child who is unable to be reared by both his mother and his father?  A true hero.

We live in a fallen world, and marriage faces countless obstacles.  Getting the Marriage Conversation Right addresses each of these difficulties in turn, and explains how we are to understand a proper response to _______ problem.  The book repeatedly admonishes us to avoid the temptation to condemnation, and maintains a thoroughly Catholic — that is, merciful — response to the many problems that individuals may face.

No hate-spewing.  No tsk-tsking.  No “they deserve what they get”.  None of that.

Who Should Read This Book?

The audience is those who accept, or wish to more fully accept, Catholic teaching on the sanctity of marriage.  If you aren’t interested in being convinced, you won’t find this book convincing. It’s a book of explanations for why the Church teaches as she does, and how to effectively communicate that teaching to others.

The reading level is all-adults.  The tone is conversational and the word count is short and to-the-point.  This is an excellent resource for a parish study group.

Helpful for Outsiders?

If you are in favor of same-sex unions, will this book help you understand the other side?  A lot depends on your mentality.  This is an unabashed defense of the Catholic teaching, written by and for those who want to agree with it.  There is no effort to create, within the book, an apologetic geared towards the worthy opponent. Yes, if you read the booklet with a desire to understand, in the spirit of true dialogue, why people oppose same-sex unions, you will in fact learn why people oppose same-sex unions.

But if it’s going to make your blood boil to see anyone lay out a defense of a position you abhor, then yeah, it’s going to make your blood boil.  No way around it.

Summary: Good book.  Short, readable, gets straight to the heart of the matter.  This is the first title I’ve read on this topic, and it does a good job at what it does.  For those who oppose same-sex unions, but don’t really know why, or how to explain their position, this book makes a good start.

Boilerplate:This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Getting the Marriage Conversation Right. The Catholic Company is the best resource for all your seasonal needs such as First Communion gifts as well as ideas and gifts for the special papal Year of Faith.