Sunday, February 5, 2012

for the men

Dear Liberal Arts Men,

There are lots of beautiful women on campus. Why aren’t you dating?

Not a whole lot miffs and baffles liberal arts women more than the fact that good men don’t ask them out. In the words of a dear (female) friend of mine, “It’s not fair. They get to pick whoever they want. We can just put out bait and hope.”

These women (and for a few years, I was one of them) befriend off-campus students so they can borrow their kitchens and feed you something better than cafeteria food. They sing while washing the dishes. They laugh at your jokes. As graduation approaches, they tell you that they’re looking at this or that type of job, but that what they’d really like to do is raise kids. They’re practically wearing signs that say “ask me out.” They’re waiting for you, and opening doors won’t cut it forever.

You, liberal arts men, need to do your part. Take them to a dance. Take them to dinner. Start a relationship. Something. Dating is not a lifelong commitment. Asking a woman to a formal dance (and asking her to dance at the formal dance) is not a marriage proposal. An evening of conversation and dance is a fun thing to do with friends; a relationship is discerning marriage. Neither requires an irrevocable vow.

That means you don’t have to finish discerning (and, Catholic men, you don’t have to 115% rule out the priesthood) before you ask her out. If you don’t ask her out because you’re only 80% sure you’d want someone like her helping you raise children, then you’re really not asking her out because you’re scared. Ask her out, then talk about the other 20% (and the 80%) while you’re dating. Share ideas and see if you reach the same conclusions on the important things. That’s what dating is for. That’s not what pre-asking-out-analysis is for. Be discerning before you ask her out, but not scrupulous – there’s way more to her than you’ll find out while “just friends.”

Most liberal arts women want to be stay-at-home-moms and they want men like you to marry them so they can. They want men like you because you’re responsible, because you’re funny, because you’re clean, because you’re trustworthy, because you’re strong. Generally, people discern their vocation to marriage by dating and generally, people don’t marry without dating. Liberal arts women know that after leaving the little bubble of [name of little conservative liberal arts college] and enter the great sea of secularism, they are much less likely to find a man they would trust their future children with, unless they land a job at the pro-life think tank down the street. (And you’re much less likely to find such a woman after you graduate.) You have a responsibility to give these women a chance at marriage to a real man, a good, virtuous man who goes to their church. Ask them out. You’ll find out way more about her than you knew before – and you might find that you want to marry her. Or that you don’t. But if you’re already 80% sure you do want to marry her, it’s time to take the next step in your discernment.

Yes, it’s scary asking them out. You know what else is scary? Childbirth. So we’re even. Ask her out already.

Mary (and Luke, who asked)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Hearing God's Voice

Dear M.,

I’m glad you keep asking questions like these. Those are the questions I was asking in high school, and I was really frustrated that nobody would give me answers to them. I imagine more questions like these will come up, and when they do, I want you to remember two things:

1. Learn what the Church teaches on the subject. If you don’t know, look it up: in the Catechism, on, asking someone who knows the faith well. Remember that you’re looking for “what the Church teaches,” not someone’s opinion. Different people have different opinions, and when you’re after truth, you want something consistent and actually true. The Catholic Encyclopedia at is also a good resource, but can be hard to follow sometimes. Anything by Catholic Answers or EWTN is good, and I also recommend the Archdiocese of Washington blog.

2. Know that the Church does have answers. If you haven’t found an answer that satisfies you, that really answers your question, keep looking, and don’t give up.

Now, on to prayer. You asked how to know if you’re hearing God’s voice or just your own voice in your head. I’ll do my best to answer your question – but again, if I don’t answer it well enough, ask.

I remember reading a thing on prayer geared toward teens, and it said that prayer is like IMing God. I was really upset. That’s not helpful at all, and it isn’t really true. I guess prayer and IMing are both communication between two persons, but as far as communication goes, they’re not really very similar. Prayer is lifting up your heart and mind to God.

First off, when you’re praying, don’t expect to hear an actual voice with your ears, and don’t expect to have the right answer pop into your heart or mind in a clear, obvious way. If this happens, especially if you hear an actual voice, talk to a priest. But this doesn’t normally happen.

God does call some great saints to do radical things. St. Francis of Assisi gave up all his worldly possessions and founded a religious order. St. Catherine of Siena wrote letters to the pope telling him to get his act together. St. Joan of Arc left the farm and led the French army to battle. This is really great, but it’s not normal. While God does want us to love Him and obey Him with our whole heart, usually He wants us to do so in our “state of life” – for you, that means as a student, friend, daughter, sister. Later, it may mean as an orthodontist, or as a wife and mother, or whatever. If you do think God is calling you to something like particularly radical, talk to a priest.

Prayer builds our relationship with God, and remember that relationships are built over time. Think of some of your closest friends, and think about how your relationships are different now than they were when you first met. How did that happen? It was time spent together – time spent chatting, playing with each other’s hair, carpooling, studying together, spending the night at each other’s houses, all the stuff of friendship. When you spend time together, your relationship grows, and you don’t always notice it growing.

In the same way, our relationship with God is built during the time we spend with Him – in prayer, especially in front of the Blessed Sacrament. In some ways we have to put more effort into our relationship with Him than our relationship with regular people – we can’t just chat on the phone with Him, or have Him over to commiserate over exams, or paint His toenails. Much of the “stuff of friendship” we can’t really do with Him, because although He is present, He is present in a very different way. This is where prayer comes in. Part of prayer is just spending time with Him to build that relationship.

This may mean reading the Bible, saying the Rosary, or kneeling before Mass and turning over in our minds and hearts what all these things mean. While saying Rosary, we meditate on the various mysteries; maybe while mediating on the Annunciation, we can think about our Lady’s words: “Be it done to me according to Thy will.” Perhaps she understood how great an honor it was to bear the Son of God, but her life wasn’t all easy. She had to figure out how to deal with being pregnant before she married Joseph (“an angel appeared to me and my son is the Son of God” isn’t an explanation that would satisfy my parents if I got pregnant before I married). And after giving birth to her Son and raising Him, she watched Him be condemned to death, beaten, and crucified. That couldn’t have been easy, but she accepted all of that when the angel appeared to her and she said “Be it done unto me according to Thy will.” She knew that she would suffer, and she knew that in the end God would reward her for her faith in Him. And now she is queen of heaven.

In prayer, read a section from the Bible or think on the mysteries of the Rosary, and let your thoughts go further. What does this really mean? What would this have really been like? What does that mean for me? (Is my heart as open to God’s will as our Lady’s heart?)

Part of prayer is asking God for guidance. This is when the “listening” comes in, when we try to hear God’s voice. First, we have to be patient. God doesn’t usually tell us everything all at once. We have to keep coming back, keep praying, keep asking. Second, we have to open our hearts to His will. The answer He gives us might not be the one we want, and it might involve suffering. Are we open to that? Are we willing to accept whatever God asks of us, as our Lady did? This takes practice.

Given that, I’ll give you some ways to help discern whether you’re hearing God’s voice or not. The closer you are to God and the deeper your relationship with Him, the more quickly you’ll recognize His voice. Here are some ways to start:

St. Francis de Sales said “No thoughts which cause us disquiet and agitation come from God who is Prince of Peace; they are, rather, temptations of the enemy, and therefore we must reject them and take no notice of them.” If, on the deepest level, you feel angsty and conflicted about what you think might be God’s will, it probably isn’t God’s will. God may require us to make sacrifices. But on the deepest level, doing His will brings joy and peace.

St. Joan of Arc said “All I know about Christ and His Church is that they’re the same thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.” The Church teaches some specific things about morality: lying is wrong, envy is wrong, murder is wrong, etc. In addition, the Church teaches some specific things about virtue: love is good, patience is good, courage is good. The Church is the Bride of Christ, and in a good marriage, both parents are on the same page about what they teach their children. God won’t tell you to do something that the Church teaches is morally wrong. If you think you are hearing God tell you to lie, that’s not God’s voice.

God has already told us the basics. When asked about the most important commandment, Jesus said to love God with your whole self, and, second, to love your neighbor as yourself. We know that God is always calling us to love more deeply, more purely, less selfishly. When you are unsure what to do in a particular situation, think about the most loving thing to do, and ask God to guide your thoughts and lead you closer to Him.

I wish I could give you a clear-cut method so you would always know whether you’re hearing God’s voice or something else. But God isn’t a system or a computer; God is a Person (or rather, three Persons) who love deeply. And he will help, as long as you ask and persevere in your asking.

AMDG (ad majorem Dei gloriam – for the greater glory of God)


Friday, February 3, 2012

Intro to Contraception

Dear high school students,

I’m sure you’ve all seen on the news about the federal contraception mandate and the Catholic uproar over it. You can read on the news what happened and how Catholics are reacting. I want you to understand why contraception is such a big deal.

We’ve talked before about how doing things God’s way is good for you. That’s true about sex and contraception, too.

God designed sex to be amazing. He designed sex to be a way for spouses to give themselves completely to each other, to strengthen their commitment to each other, and to produce children. When they express their love for each other this way, that love may become a child. And that’s beautiful. Sex allows married couples to participate in God’s love and in his creation.

Our culture today accepts all sorts of things that violate the sanctity of marriage and sexuality. One of these is contraception. Contraceptive sex is sex on our terms, not on God’s terms. Contraceptive sex says “I want the pleasure right now, but I don’t want the responsibility of raising children.” Contraceptive sex cannot be an act of total self-giving and isn’t an act of love -- remember, God designed sex to be an act of love. Contraceptive sex is using the other person for sexual pleasure.

God designed our bodies to work a certain way, and contraception interferes with that. Our bodies are naturally fertile. It’s healthy to be fertile. Advocates of contraception speak as if fertility (especially women’s fertility) were a defect and as if pregnancy were a disease. It’s not. Having a functioning reproductive system is just as healthy as having a functioning digestive system or a functioning respiratory system. God made our bodies to work a certain way, and it’s good and healthy when our bodies work the way God designed them.

The Catholic Church does not teach that once you’re married, you have to have sex all the time and have as many babies as your body can handle. We all know that sex can naturally result in children. But it doesn’t always. That’s because women’s bodies are designed to have fertile cycles -- there are only a few days per month when it’s possible for a woman to get pregnant. When a couple has sex during a time when the woman is naturally infertile, she can’t get pregnant. It’s possible (and, actually, not that hard) to learn how to tell when a woman is naturally fertile or infertile, and if a couple has a good reason to postpone a pregnancy, they can abstain from having sex when the woman is fertile. God designed women’s bodies to go through these cycles naturally. He also designed our brains so we can learn how to do this. The Catholic Church teaches that couples must be open to having children, but if there are times in their marriage when having a child seems unwise, they are permitted to abstain from sex during fertile times to postpone pregnancy. This is called Natural Family Planning, and you can find more about it at

NFP isn’t just another form of contraception. By having contraceptive sex, the couple abuses the sanctity of marriage and sex. By not having sex during fertile times, a couple is simply not having sex. With contraception, the couple does not want children. With NFP, the couple thinks that, because of their circumstances, it’s unwise to have children right now, but they are open to life. With any method of contraception or with NFP, there can be surprise pregnancies. With contraception, surprise pregnancies are called “mistakes” or “failures.” With NFP, surprise pregnancies are called “children.”

That’s the Church’s teaching in a nutshell. If you have more questions, let me know and I will be happy to answer them.

Here’s a little more information on contraception and NFP:

Many people think that NFP is not effective at preventing pregnancy. That’s not actually true. A 2007 study showed that NFP is 99.6% effective when used properly.

NFP couples have healthier marriages and almost never divorce.

Side-effects of chemical contraceptives (including the birth control pill) include nausea, vomiting, weight gain, and infertility. NFP doesn’t have any side effects, and when you’re ready to have children, you don’t have problems with infertility.

NFP doesn’t cost any money. You need a thermometer, and you need to be able to stick it under your tongue. And you need a pencil, so you can record your information. Birth control pills can cost $15 to $50 a month, according to Planned Parenthood.

NFP is better for the environment. We all know that it’s bad to put chemicals in food and let chemicals drain into our lakes and rivers. Why would we put chemicals in our bodies (and let them drain into our lakes and rivers) if we don’t need to?

When the inventors of the birth control pill were testing the pill on women, three women died. They didn’t bother investigating whether the pill caused their deaths.

Women, don’t let our culture tell you that pregnancy is a disease or that your fertility is a problem. Men don’t take pills or use chemicals to interfere with how their bodies work naturally - why should we? Fertility is good and healthy, and motherhood is a beautiful thing. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Save sex for when you’re married, and if you marry, be open to life. Here is a quote from Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty:

“The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral - a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body. The angels have not been blessed with such a grace. They cannot share in God’s creative miracle to bring new saints to heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creature. God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation. What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?”


PS Luke wrote something for the guys:


Contraception is unmanly. I’m not going to tell you it’s bad, because that’s what the rest of this letter is for. I’m going to tell you why it’s unmanly. As men, we have a special duty to take care of women. So if there’s one thing that men (real men, that is) don’t do, it’s take advantage of women.

It takes two to have a baby. And the way God designed things, it takes two not to have a baby. Mary explained how this works in the section about NFP. Both people have to do their part. Basically every kind of contraception (except condoms) works by messing up how women’s bodies work so that they’re not fertile. So instead of it taking two, contraception makes women do all the work.

Again, if there’s one thing that men don't do, it’s take advantage of women. If we’re not willing to abstain for a few days per month so that women don’t have to pump a bunch of chemicals into their bodies, then we’re not taking care of women, we’re taking advantage of them. We’re saying to them “I want to have sex whenever I want, so mess up your body so I don’t have to abstain.” If you're not married, you shouldn't be having sex in the first place. If you are married and there’s a good reason not to have a baby, do things the right way and do your part.

Be a man.


P.S. And ladies, don’t settle for men who don’t live up to this.