Jesus and Divorce, A contemporary perspective

In 2002, Wipf and Stock Publishers published an excellent scholarly work by two highly respected evangelical authors, Gordon J. Wenham and William E. Heth. They tackle one of the more perplexing problems in New Testament exegesis (critical interpretation or study), that of Jesus’ uncompromising teaching on divorce and remarriage.

This topic is particularly relevant in the American Roman Catholic community because of the disproportionate number of annulments granted, an aberration addressed by the last several pontiffs. This has been chronicled in several books, both from a sympathetic and critical perspective.

First, there is little doubt among scholars as to the historical teaching of Jesus on divorce and remarriage: he absolutely prohibited it. The so-called exception clause to this prohibition in Matthew’s Gospel is generally presumed by Catholic scholars to refer to marriage within forbidden degrees of kinship according to Leviticus. It is typically considered to originate from Matthew or his community in response to a pastoral issue. Because of its highly Jewish flavor, Matthew’s Gospel is particularly sensitive to this issue.

Paul’s teachings, including the so-called Pauline Privilege accessed by Catholic canon law in annulment proceedings, though not specifically discussed under those terms, are also addressed.

Jesus and Divorce addresses this and other New Testament teachings on divorce in an even-handed manner that would be of particular interest to Roman Catholics. It offers an extensive critique and affirmation of Fr. Raymond F. Collins highly praised work Divorce and the New Testament, available from The Liturgical Press.

A Roman Catholic reader unfamiliar with scholarly exegesis would be overwhelmed by the book. However an informed reader of any Christian denomination would find it packed with useful information and helpful insights.

Gordon Wenham is the author of an outstanding commentary on Genesis as well.  He has written another book on the subject of marriage and divorce in the New Testament, and is worth checking out. I find him accessible, thorough, balanced, and orthodox, an uncommon combination today.

I highly recommend Jesus and Divorce to serious readers interested in exploring this problematic question.  The following is contact information from the publisher:

Wipf and Stock Publishers 199 West 8th Avenue, Suite 3 Eugene, OR 97401-2960

Tel: (541) 344-1528 Fax: (541) 344-1506

Ordering Inquiries: Orders@wipfandstock.com

I am confident you will find this book challenging and enlightening. It is particularly refreshing in contrast to permissive views on the subject that have infiltrated the Christian churches both at the magisterial and pastoral level. The authors take seriously the words of Jesus and their practical import for 21st century readers. Would that more scholars articulate this perspective with such clarity and acuity.

New book on Pope Francis

Crossroad Publishing has recently published an attractive coffee table picture book on Pope Francis with excellent essays on his background and perspective, as well as that of his predecessor. The pictures are very well done, and the writing quite accessible. The book is entitled: A Call to Serve: Pope Francis and the Catholic Church. If you slip and refer to him as St. Francis, don’t worry, you have plenty of company. With a name, personality, and background like that, it comes with the territory.

I found the writing particularly engaging. It speaks to both novice and the well read. It is broken down into manageable and user-friendly subtopics surrounded by colorful photos.

For a limited time, Crossroad is offering this at an outstanding price of $7 per copy, and $6 per copy for orders of 40 or more. This offer expires on June 14.  Here is ordering information provided by the publisher.

To order online – www.popefrancisbook.com

For bulk orders, email sales@crossroadpublishing.com

YouTube Video Clip – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13OoeYvaCfM

If you mention this blog as a source for your interest, you unfortunately will not receive an additional discount, but you will likely get some sympathy.  Check it out and enjoy.

A Pittsburgh Tradition

I had the opportunity yesterday to spend most of a day at Kennywood Park, a traditional amusement park in West Mifflin, a suburb of Pittsburgh. It was an interesting experience that merits sharing.

First, as we creep up in age, we begin to encounter issues that formerly would have escaped us. As i waited in line for the Jackrabbit, one of Kennywood’s classic coasters, I spoke to a couple who expressed to me how pleased they were at being able to get into the park for a discounted Senior rate, and at the nice young age of 55.

I hadn’t paid attention to that, but in thinking about it, it helped explain the preponderance of both old and young at Kennywood. This generous policy made sense to me particularly halfway through the day as I realized that despite being in reasonable physical condition I was unable to tolerate the heat, crowds, and lines, without a child or loved one to distract me.  I also think that I misjudged certain rides in terms of their capacity to throw off my equilibrium. Once the stomach turns and the dizziness sets in, it is difficult to recover quickly.  Of course, I was there for 8 1/2 hours, so I had some stamina.

Also of interest was the reaction of both middle-aged men and women to Kennywood, particularly from an ethnic perspective. Some folks set great store by Italian day, German day, Croatian day, etc., which is something foreign to me, as I have never participated in such. Nonetheless these individuals were waxing nostalgically about it, bringing up all these memories, so it obviously was very meaningful for them. It was as if they were momentarily returning to their childhood.

I decided to approach Kennywood a bit differently. First, by focusing on its location, and the splendid views it affords. I went on the train several times just to take in the river scene, with the locks and dams and Pittsburgh’s last remaining steel mill. When I went on the rides that go high in the air, I enjoyed the view, as well as the sensation.

I didn’t have the patience to wait in line at the Potato Patch for Kennywood’s renowned fries, but a lot of other folks did.

I am not an amusement park lover, and my ability to tolerate them gradually recedes year after year, a product of aging no doubt, but it was fun to people-watch and strike up conversations. Kids with their faces painted were a hoot, and at least one adult gave it a try — not me!

For folks who are not from Pittsburgh, Kennywood is a must, simply because of its uniqueness. It is truly a taste of Pittsburgh, in many different ways. Its size is manageable, and the lines are tolerable, at least in my experience. Some visitors from Ohio were telling me of the lengthy lines at Cedar Point, and how little they minded the minor delays at Kennywood.

I noticed that people let their guard down a bit at Kennywood, and perhaps most amusement parks. They wave to strangers while on a ride, and let go momentarily of inhibitions.

Kennywood has a lot of history, but it is its local flavor and manageability that I most appreciate. You can walk it without getting exhausted: believe me, it was the heat, and not the hoofing, that got to me. I actually saw a couple people with maps of the place, and I had to laugh, because most of the people didn’t seem to need one. Many told me they make an annual trek to Kennywood, but I didn’t talk to anyone who had an annual pass. The kids might love it, but I am not so sure about adults. Some years ago, I learned that i was moving into young adulthood in part when I could no longer take the swings, and found myself nauseous and dizzy in an unanticipated way.

Perhaps my most pleasant stop was at the fudge shop that greets visitors to Kennywood. A chocolate lover’s delight. The aroma there was a great offset to the heat. Too bad I couldn’t escape the guilt over the calories.

Park employees were ready with a smile, and about the only thing I had trouble finding out was the schedule for whatever PAT bus route services Kennywood. Most of the college age kids I asked had no idea, and understandably. Eventually I got my information.

So, I had a relaxing, nostalgic, and fun time, but the coup de grace was a local Pizza shop that I visited down the street, Latina’s Pizzeria. Family owned since 1957, the pizza was phenomenal, and the proprietor entertaining and helpful. The juke box had records from the late 1970s disco era, but sadly was no longer functioning. Just to see the records and the titles made me smile, and continued my nostalgic journey. The square Sicilian pizza tasted like a family recipe, and was quite affordable. I savored the experience, because in a few years such independent pizza shops are likely to be increasingly rare.

Kennywood can be reached at (412) 461-0500, or kennywood.com. Latina’s Pizza, located at 4426 Kennywood Boulevard, can be contacted at (412) 461-4278.

 

 

No Reply

While working on matters of intense theological and pastoral intensity I was treated to a backdrop of a little known Beatles song entitled “No Reply.” Issued in 1964 on the album Beatles for Sale, it led off the album.

Written and sung by John Lennon, it is a classic tale of a guy being dumped by a girl who doesn’t have the courage or decency to tell him, and ignores all his visits and attempts at communication.  As I was listening, I thought, how little has changed in human nature and society. Of course, women have the same thing happen to them, neither sex has a monopoly on it.

I also thought how impoverished the current generation is in terms of music. Being exposed to the trash also known as rap, and pop icons more distinct for their sex appeal than musical talent, and having many songs filled with filth or violent overtones — providing of course, that you can understand what they are saying — these kids would have no clue of their heritage in rock and pop music were it not for their parents, who often pass it down.

I remain amused by children who really like the Beatles, even though their parents were born after the Beatles broke up. The Beatles music is timeless. When I hear songs like No Reply, which contain infectious clapping hands in the middle chorus that invite the listener to follow suit, I can’t help but regret the drug culture of rock music. How much less we received from these gifted artists because they took frequent refuge in the escapes of recreational drugs.

No Reply is a fun, fast-moving, high energy song with poignant lyrics and amazing phrasing and melody that reminds us why the Beatles remain in a class by themselves in terms of popular music.

Commentary and insights are most welcome. Of course, if you disagree with me, kindly follow the song and give me No Reply.

Thank you.

Good Reading on Vatican II

The Church is currently undergoing an ongoing reflection on Vatican Council II.  Pope Benedict emphasizes its continuity with Tradition against those who would portray it as something radically new and different.

One press that has traditionally paid considerable attention to the Vatican II documents and their implementation has been Liturgical Press. Their website is litpress.org.

i recently had the opportunity to review three new titles on the subject by Liturgical Press.

Here are my reactions.

My favorite was “Keys to the Council: Unlocking the Teaching of Vatican II” by Richard R. Gaillardetz and Catherine E. Clifford. I preferred this because it was crisp, accessible, well-founded, and non-ideological. A wide audience could benefit from this book, from beginner to scholar. It was well written too, which is not always the case with theological works. I didn’t sense a conservative or progressive bent. Simply, a concise and practical analysis of the documents, with appropriate background. It was interesting reading as well.

Much more hard-going in terms of reading was ecclesiologist Yves Congar’s True and False Reform in the Church. Initially published in 1950, it is interesting to read today. A theological timepiece you might call it. Not for the feint of heart, though. However, it makes many good points and is rewarding for those who stick with it. A good book by a renowned author.

Finally, Liturgical Press published Yves Congar’s “My Journal of the Council.” In a word, fascinating. Though many mundane details are offered, as to be expected in a journal, it affords us an outstanding perspective from a peritii (expert consultant) who offers commentary on everything from papal activities to his adventures in Rome.  This is between the aforementioned titles in terms of reading difficulty.

Since most who attended the council are now deceased, the last attending bishop dying not long ago,  this is an invaluable perspective from an objective and learned source. It is also available as an ebook. I found it very enjoyable, and due to its size, I simply skipped over parts I was not interested in. Congar was a great theologian who also received flak for his views prior to Vatican II, so he was actively in the theological mix of the time. Once you pick it up, I think you’ll follow my tendency of skipping around to entries of interest. Liturgical Press did us a great service in publishing this literary relic.

If you have any questions or comments, please send them along. You can order the books  directly from Liturgical Press at litpress.org. Their phone number is 1-800-858-5450.

Thank you for your interest.

Focolare and Christian Community and Spirituality Books

One of the vibrant lay movements in the Church is Focolare. Founded by Chiara Lubich, who passed away in 2008, it promotes dialogue and Christian unity and community. It also advocates a modern, communitarian approach to Christian living.

New City Press is the publishing house of the Focolare movement in North America. It publishes accessible, attractive, authoritative books and media that explore theological foundations for faith and spirituality, ecumenical and interreligious initiatives, and connections between religion and human identity, relationships, and culture. I find it refreshing because it is not ideology-driven, and it is centrist and unity-building. It has an intellectual component as well as a pastoral one.

I recently reviewed select NCP titles on the Relevant Radio program “Morning Air with Sean Herriott.” You can listen to the archived interview on relevantradio.com.

New City Press published my book, Becoming Community in 2007, and I have experienced their publishing production cycle first hand. They have a rigorous editorial approach, resulting in quality, well written books. They are a streamlined operation that functions remarkably well. I found all of the titles below to be very worthwhile, particularly if you are interested in the Focolare charism.

For those wishing more detail about NCP and Focolare, please assess these links:

http://www.newcitypress.com/about/

http://www.focolare.org/en/

If you wish to order any of the books I reviewed, please use these links. Although they are also available through Amazon, please order through New City Press. Amazon takes a sizable cut of the purchase price, reducing significantly the amount due to author and publisher. See my  previous blog postings regarding the unscrupulous activities of Scamazon.

http://www.newcitypress.com/b-essential-writings-b.html

http://www.newcitypress.com/recent-releases/from-glory-to-glory.html

http://www.newcitypress.com/new-releases/ecclesial-movements-and-communities.html

http://www.newcitypress.com/new-releases/believe-in-love.html

http://www.newcitypress.com/new-releases/day-by-day-with-saint-francis.html

http://www.newcitypress.com/augustine-catechism-the.html

The Unaccountability of the Media

Recently, a columnist from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote a column entitled “Get Those Men Out of Our Wombs.” The link is http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/12050/1210927-149.stm. This is another example of the media exhibiting unaccountability, divisive anger, ignorance (unfamiliarity with the complexity and details of the issue), and unprofessionalism. The columnist does not do her research, presents only one side of an issue, and basically “rants” rather than writes. Why this is permissible by newspaper management is beyond comprehension. Read her article and judge for yourself.  I submitted this as an op-ed to the paper but it was rejected. Also, a condensed version did not run as a letter to the editor. Such anti-religious censoring is commonplace in the media. This is one reason why their vendetta against the Catholic Church is so hypocritical. They don’t monitor themselves, yet presume the right to monitor others.

Is Rejection of Contraception Akin to Misogyny?
Karl A. Schultz

(412) 766-7545 / karlaschultz@juno.com

 I strongly disagree with Sally Kalson’s article “Get Those Men Out of Our Wombs.”  As a journalist, she should realize that there are two sides to every story, and to offer an objective and competent perspective, one must consider and address rival points of view.

Here are just a few of the pertinent facts which Ms. Kalson left out.  Many contraceptives do physical harm to women. A few have been shown to cause infertility and cancer, and a significant number have been removed from the market.  Contraception has serious side effects which are often ignored by strident advocates.

There is a movement, particularly among women, towards a non-contraceptive model of responsible parenthood known as Natural Family Planning. It is not the rhythm method, which has been obsolete medically for over thirty years.  It does no harm to the woman’s body, but it also fosters communication — as well as tension and difficulties —- between couples. It requires periodic abstinence. Our increasing ecological awareness has moved into the bedroom, in a healthy and holistic manner.

Ms. Kalson made the statement that contraception is “largely noncontroversial.” This ignores the perspectives of most practicing Catholics, and individuals of other faiths who recall that until 1930, when the Anglican Lambeth conference allowed for contraception in special circumstances, birth control was deemed sinful by all the major Christian denominations.

Essentially Ms. Kalson wishes to bar not only men, but God, from women’s wombs.  Women then become only accountable to themselves, and their consciences. What happens when we apply that standard to men? We know what happens when dictators become a law unto themselves.

Implicit in Ms. Kalson’s argument is a rejection of the first biblical commandment, “Be fertile and multiply”, and Eve’s joyful cry on the birth of Abel: “I have acquired a man with the help of the Lord.” Interestingly, Eve makes no mention of Adam’s role, but recognizes her divine partner.  If Ms. Kalson is going to assail the Catholic Church, which upholds these commandments, she needs to acknowledge that she is rejecting their inspired source — which Jews, Protestants, and Orthodox share as well.

Eve means “life-giver.” Women give life in so many ways. Stating that a country is discriminatory towards women when it refuses to fund contraceptive agents that prevent life is objectionable from a spiritual and moral perspective, but also a constitutional one. The Supreme Court decision that barred prayer from public schools specifically stated that their intent was in no way to affirm a religion of secularism. A local authority on the subject, Professor Bruce Ledewitz of Duquesne Law School, has published several books decrying the ensuing religion of secularism that has influenced subsequent legislation and judicial decisions.

Through her failure to weigh and report the various spiritual and moral arguments against contraception, and in her ongoing propensity to make disparaging and misleading (referring to Catholic activists narrowly as “an all-male preserve” , as if the bishops are the sole public participants, and previously evoking a published response from Bishop Zubik regarding her gross misstatement about pedophilia among clergy), Ms. Kalson has violated principles of responsible journalism. Love needs to be the foundation of any discussion on contraception. I suggest Ms. Kalson begin there in any future editorials on the subject.

Karl A. Schultz, the director of Genesis Personal Development Center in Brighton Heights, lectures internationally on the subject of contraception and gender collaboration subjects.  He has published twelve books, including one on Pope Paul VI, the source of Catholicism’s most recent authoritative pronouncement on contraception.  He welcomes feedback at karlaschultz.com.  

The Storm Before the Calm

The Storm Before the Calm

by Michele (stuff747@gmail.com)

Love is patient.  When Mark and I began connecting as a couple, I knew I wanted to “confess” my past to him.  I wanted to have a clean slate with him.  I did not want any surprises to be revealed later that would unsettle our growing relationship.  I also figured “If I’m going to push you away because of something from my past, I want to do it right now.  I want to get it over with before I fall even more in love with you!”  That doesn’t sound like a very patient statement, does it?  Being a woman and being me, I am quite verbal, so I had no trouble spilling the beans.  I poured out my heart to him and he just sat there looking at me, even taking me in his arms saying “I understand.  It’s no big deal.  The past is past.”  Who could ask for a more lovely and loving response?  Mark is such a good listener so it is easy to talk to him.  He is also an attentive listener, which makes it hard for me to stop talking sometimes.  Oh well, just another cross to bear (apparently for both of us!)  Mark is quite an articulate speaker and conversationalist, but Mark as Mark was less forthcoming.  He was ready to listen and not judge my sins, but he was not as sure that I would feel the same way about his sins, so I began to learn patience.  I was a good girlfriend, and later became a good fiance, and will be a good wife by being patient with Mark.

One reason I had such an easy time revealing myself to Mark is because I had spent the two years prior to our getting together as a hermitress.  I spent one year removing myself from the world and turning to God, the second year I devoted myself to returning to Catholicism.  I left the Catholic Church for thirty years, so I had some catching up to do.  One of the ways I caught up was to review the 10 Commandments according to my worldly life and then make a good confession to a priest so that I could receive the sacraments.  So all of my sins were in the forefront of my memory, even though they were forgiven by God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I still thought of them from time to time, in an effort to step out of man’s world and into God’s world.  I even quit my job (retired early?) to make the withdrawal from the world as complete and thorough as possible.  Mark, on the other hand, was working and was living in the world as a single man, although he never stopped going to mass at any point.  As God would have it, Mark’s worldly ways became evident as our relationship grew, but my patience helped him to feel comfortable confronting the ways of the world.  My example, helped him to see a different way of being.  When I was not patient, Mark always forgave me and we continued moving forward in our relationship.

Love is kind.  Love is not rude, it does not rejoice over wrong-doing, but rejoices in the truth.  I made sign and hung it in my classroom for most of my teaching career.  It said “If it is not nice and it is not true, don’t say it!”  Needless to say, this put a damper on a lot of teenage conversations.  And it provoked a lot of thought as to creative ways to work around it, but it stood as a firm rule in my classroom.  I also enforced this rule with my daughters.  We live with the understanding that anyone can say anything using any words (not the Lord’s name in vain, of course!) to anybody, but in a kind way.  No screaming, no belittling, no name-calling, no sarcasm, no “Oh, I’m just joking!” kind of stuff.  Just language to convey feelings.  I would like to say that we always spoke that way to each other, we did.  But the number of times we spoke a little too loud, could be counted on two hands.  My daughters and I did pretty well in this respect, and so by the time Mark showed up, I was in the habit of making requests in a calm manner with as little unnecessary emotion as possible.  “Mark, this upsets me and this is why.”  As time went on, and because of the grace of God and my prayers to always be patient and kind, I learned not to take things personally.  I learned not to be hurt by anything Mark says or does because he does not mean it personally against me.  It is not his intention to hurt me, but sometimes it seems that way as he steps out of man’s world and into God’s world. Mark is out in the world every day, he endures unkindness on a regular basis.  I choose to be kind to Mark in every situation.  No yelling, no sarcasm, no belittling, no criticism or complaints.  My behavior is between me and God, no matter what Mark says or does, no matter what I think Mark is saying or doing, it doesn’t matter.  It is not about me.  But my behavior is about me, it is about me and God.  I have to answer to God. And there is no need for me to point out Mark’s sins or flaws or human-ness to him.  His behavior is between him and God.  Period.

Michele is not jealous.  If I see myself as God sees me, if I trust that God has a great future for me, if I focus on me being me….. then I have no reason to be jealous.  The main “issue” that Mark and I have had is that in my opinion, we do not spend enough time together.  But looking back to Michele is patient, I remember that Mark and I manage time differently and we have different responsibilities.  Because of this fact in our lives, I know that the way to help Mark is to be patient with him and trust God that our time together is as it should be right now.  Obviously, when we are married, this problem will begin to take care of itself.  We will be living under the same roof and I will be close by to help him by sharing in his responsibilities, hopefully making his burden lighter.  I have no need to be jealous of our lack of time, God will take care of it.

Love does not seek her own self-interests.  As I was on my own during my single years, I spent a great deal of time developing my own interests and sharing in the interests of my children.  I also spent time seeking God and all things Catholic.  Mark spent his time cultivating his own interests.  Now we are in a position to share our interests with each other.  Mark has taken an interest in photography and I have taken an interest in football.  Mark will accompany me to museums and even plan hiking trips (one of my loves) knowing that it is an expression of his love for me to share in my interests.  I listen to his favorite radio shows with him or help him run errands for his parents.  Just being together makes everything fun.  We enjoy each other’s company, and even when something sounds like it won’t be fun such as taking his folks to their doctor’s appointments, we take a deep breath and make something good out of it.  Mark is so kind and wonderful and sensitive.  He wants to please me as much as I want to please him.

Love is not quick tempered.  But I am usually quick to respond or move to a resolution in various situations.  Mark is not quick tempered, and he is usually slower to respond and more thoughtful in his resolutions (thank goodness).  God is so smart.  He paired us up so I could learn to slow down and smell the roses by becoming more like Mark.  Mark is learning, from me, the qualities that he needs to learn as well.  Our individual traits complement each other and as we move from our opposite tendencies toward each other, we are moving toward a more balanced and centered way of being.  More in the peaceful, yet productive middle.  A blend of doing and being.

Love is long-suffering.  Mark specifically, and men in general, are sooooo sensitive. They grow up hearing constructive words as criticism, most likely because they have been criticized mercilessly by other women in their lives.  God is so smart.  He teaches that if there is a situation that needs to change, all I have to do is pray.  I pray to change myself and to change the situation.  Then I have to practice patience in long-suffering.  When I see how Mark grows and thrives on love and patience and kindness, it makes my long-suffering not so long, because love heals all wounds.  Fr. Donald Calloway wrote in his book “No Turning Back:  A Witness to Mercy” that the Blessed Virgin Mary told him “You don’t have to change to love me.  Loving me will change you”  I posted this in my kitchen and refer to it constantly.  When my Mother Mary speaks, I listen!  Mark does not have to change for me, but he has to change for God.  It is not up to me to change Mark.  It is up to Mark to change Mark.  It is up to me to change me.  This last statement is soooooo important because what Mary said to Fr. Calloway is also true between Mark and me.  Loving me will change Mark and loving Mark changes me.  God is so smart.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails.  Early in our relationship Mark told me “There’s nothing that we can’t get through!”  The more we keep love in the forefront of our relationship, the easier our lives together become.  Does that mean we have less disappointments, or worries, or problems or flat tires?  No!  It means that we trust God and truly believe “there’s nothing that we can’t get through” because we are not alone.  We have God and we have each other.  Love never fails because God is love and God never fails.  The cross is the only path to holiness, to real love.  Christ carried His cross and He tells me that He will help me carry mine!  So why be afraid?  Why think anything that happens in my relationship with Mark, or in my life is unbearable?  I know all things are bearable because Christ is before me, beside me, behind me, within me.  Christ is everywhere.  Christ died to show His love for me because real love involves dying and carrying my cross.  I want real love.  I’ve experienced the world’s love, I’ve experienced what I thought was love.  Now I know what true love is, it is love of TRUTH, which is love of GOD and all things Godly.  My cross is anything that separates me from God, God calls this sin.  Sure I’ve never killed someone who cut me off in traffic, I don’t even use the Lord’s name in vain, but my greatest daily sin is that I forget God and who He is and what He says to me and about me.  When I do not sin I keep my awareness of God’s presence the focus of each minute of each day.  I know He can do all things, and He turns all things into good, so I never need to worry.  I know He loves me and showers me with graces, so I never need to feel unloved, rejected, or a lack of anything – not time or things or money.  He fills me with love, I feel “in love” any time I want to feel that way, because I turn to God for that feeling, knowing His love is other worldly, to say the least!  God provides all that I need as He provides for the lilies in the field.  And now God provides all that I want, as well!  I pray to continually fall more deeply in love with God, I pray to long for His presence, I pray to really understand and enjoy mass and remain attentive and filled with awe. I pray to see God as He really is, not the way my limited mind portrays him.  I pray to know and and then do His Will.  I pray that as for me and my household, we love and serve the Lord.

So we need to be imitators of God (especially in forgiveness and loving) as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us.  When I am close to God I am more able to receive God’s graces.  Why is it that when Mark and I first got together everything was great?  We were attentive to each other as we poured out our hearts to each other, sharing our past hurts and our future hopes and dreams.  We were stripping away our boundaries and revealing our real and best selves to each other, so that we could grow more closely together in love.  We could hardly stand to be away from each other.  We made dinner for each other, carefully paying attention to the other’s favorite food preferences.  Mark explained how he always enjoyed watching his parents make meals together as he was growing up.  He said it was one of his best memories of how they showed their love for each other.  We started making meals together.  Mark walked with me through all of the flower gardens at my home and enjoyed looking at all of my photos, attentively listening to my travel stories.  I watched every single sports event that he wanted to see, snuggled up beside him, while he told me the personal stories of each of his favorite players and the histories of the teams.   We thought about each other constantly and gave each other little surprises.  Mark would bring peppermint patties, wild flowers that he stopped to pick on his way home from work, or fresh produce grown by local farmers, to me.  We talked on the phone periodically throughout the day and for hours on end at night. Sometimes we sat under the stars, just sitting quietly.  Or in the hot afternoons we would rest quietly in his hammock under the shade of his ancient Maple trees.  We even began reading his favorite book “Trinity” together, each of us taking a turn to read aloud to the other.  The list goes on and on.  We were all smiles.   Love and affection seemed to pour out of us.  People commented on how happy we looked together and how happy they were for us, and strangers seemed to be drawn to us.  Our love was contagious.  Everything was laughter and wildflowers.  I say “was” because before I knew it everything changed from other worldly greatness to ugliness.  I believe our culture (the culture of death) calls this the honeymoon period and when it is over it is time to move on.  At least that is what the self help books say, or else it is time to start setting up boundaries and standing up for yourself so you can make him/her into the man/woman you want him to be.

Lucky for us, before we got together I had immersed myself in God and His ways.  I had spent a great deal of time and energy extracting the world from my mind, body and soul, and turning myself over to God.  Yet, I was surprised when things became ugly between us.  Initially, Mark could do no wrong, even when he did wrong.  But slowly and gradually  this “honeymoon period” evolved into the realization for both of us that things were as ugly as they were in our past relationships, in our former marriages!  Actually, things were much uglier than our former marriages because we did not have the love and connection in those relationships that Mark and I have together.  More importantly, we did not have the Catholic understanding of marriage in those relationships, hence the granting of an annulment for each of our marriages.  We were quite confused, how is it that we are having these same issues and having them at such an intense level, especially since we both agreed to put God first in our relationship?  Lucky for us, every time an issue reared its ugly head, I would turn to God for comfort.  I would turn to God for guidance.  I started praying novenas, lighting candles, increasing my prayer time back to what it was before Mark and I got together.  I started saying more rosaries and spending more time in adoration.  None of this seemed to help.  As time passed I felt more and more removed from Mark, I felt frustration, disconsolation, isolation, and humiliation. I prayed “God, am I wrong?  Am I supposed to be alone or with Mark?  It is unpleasant being with Mark and I felt so much peace being alone.  Are we supposed to be together or not?”  After a few months, well, almost a year  I heard God’s answer to my question.  I am a slow learner or else not a very good listener or maybe a little of both.  Or maybe it was that I didn’t quite understand what I learned during my two years of being immersed in God’s world and way.  Actually, what I believe it really was, is that I had that two years of knowledge and good practice under my belt, but now it was time to put all of it into practice.

Eventually I realized that every complaint I had about Mark, was the complaint God had about me.  (Except God didn’t complain to me, He just sat back and let me figure it out!)  “We aren’t spending enough time together.”  I had cut back my time with God to spend it with Mark.  “I go out of my way to look nice for you and you don’t even notice!”  I forgot who I was in God’s eyes, I wasn’t seeing myself as beautiful and wonderful as God intends me to see myself, instead I wanted Mark to say that to me.  “You don’t tell me that you love me anymore.”  God was saying that to me.  I was spending all my time being head over heels in love with Mark, that I forgot that I was head over heels in love with God!  Eventually, I got it.  God allowed me to put Mark in his place, He allowed me to make our relationship so miserable that I could no longer turn to Mark for love and comfort and peace.  I needed to turn back to God.  I needed to turn back to God.  I would like to say that once I realized this I immediately understood what God was trying to tell me… that I only need God.  But I can say today as I am writing this, that I get it.  I need God.  I am poor of spirit.  Without God I can do nothing.  Yet all things are possible through Christ, who loves me.  I really took to heart what God was telling me, and that is  that He is first, no other idols before Him.  I am to love the Creator more than His creations.  This whole episode is what I like to call the storm before the calm.  This realization was a turning point in my life, and in my relationship with Mark.  I realized that Mark and I told each other and God that we wanted to have Him in our relationship and that we wanted him to be first, but we were not doing it.  We were hearers, but not doers of His Word.  Faith without works is dead.  Our relationship was dying because even though we believe in God, have faith in Him, understood the concept of putting God first in our future Catholic marriage by putting Him first now…. we were not doing it.

As soon as I realized this, I changed.  I began praying my favorite prayer “Change me, Lord”.  I started looking at my relationship with God and I saw that I had needed to apply  His Word to my life.  I needed to become closer  to God, make Him my best friend, my true love, the love of my life.  I knew I needed to treat Mark the way God treats me.  St. Louis de Montfort reminded me that I had consecrated myself to Mary, yet I had stopped turning to her each day.  So I took all of the knowledge and practices that I had and I knew I had to begin applying it to my life.  I knew it, but I didn’t know how to do it.  No kidding.  That’s the point.  I think at that point I finally got it.  I needed to confess that I was not putting God first in my life, not to mention in my relationship with Mark, and ask for the grace to know how to do it.  So I received the Sacrament of Reconciliation where I received the grace to change and then I headed to Adoration to sit and really thank God for His love and mercy, and then I began really listening to His Word.  I was able to hear His Word at mass in the scripture and in my alone time with Him.  I was given the grace to see that I had more complaints about Mark, but God was using Mark as my mirror to bring me closer to Him.  I discovered, by the grace of God, that the closer I became to God by imitating Him, the closer I came to Mark.  This is the secret to all great relationships, treat others the way God treats me.  Ok, I guess it’s not really a secret.  I know I’ve read it and heard it at least a gazillion times, but by seeking God’s grace I now have the eyes to see and the ears to hear it.  Thank God!

The storm before the calm is good.  It is the good news.  It is the time when I die to myself the way God wants me to die to myself.  The storm is a result of my hard heart softening, or stepping out of man’s world and into God’s world.  Oddly enough, I had already learned that when someone “annoyed” me, I knew it was because I was seeing something in that person that I did not like about myself, it was something that I needed to change in myself.  I knew this.  I had been practicing this for a long time.  I knew that God used others as my mirror, He used others to help me see my true self so that I could let go of that part of me and become my real “true self”.  So I can become the Michele that God created me to be.  My true self, my self seen through the eyes of what is true, God’s Truth.  I learned that lesson well in my hermitress days, in my BM (Before Mark) days.  Now I once again live this lesson in my BM (Blessed Mary) days, because Mary is the way to Christ, just as St. Louis de Montfort or any Marion Priest.  God brought Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book “Consoling the Heart of Jesus” to me to help me make this connection.  This book is such an inspiration and makes it easy to put God in His place.  I learned to see the Consoler, rather than seek consolation.  St Fransis’s prayer took on a whole new meaning to me “to console rather than be consoled”.  I learned that to be full of grace like Mary, I had to be present with God so He could fill me with His grace.  I had to revolve my life around God the way I was formerly revolving it around Mark.  Now there is a balance.  By putting God first in my life, He gives me plenty of time to put Mark second.  But God, being God, and being so smart, knowing everything, He makes it seem to Mark as if Mark is first.  If you ask Mark, he will tell you that he feels like he is first in my life, and he is.  Except now he is first in my life AFTER God.

This is more than a play on words, God makes life so easy and so perfect when I put Him first.  I have to know God’s promises to know what to expect from Him.  I have to know His commands, so I know how to treat others.  I have to know how God sees me so I know how to see myself.  So I know to cast my cares to the Lord and be joyful at all times, praising Him in good times and bad because I now know in my heart that the storm before the calm is a good thing.  I just think it is bad because my vision is so limited.  God’s is all-knowing, He knows that the calm that follows the storm is so much better than the calm before the storm.  I thought Mark and I were in love, and we were, during the honeymoon period.  I wanted to stay in that place, but God has an even better place planned for me, for us.  That honeymoon period showed Mark and I what life can really be like after we heal all of our wounds, after we go through the storm.  The key is going through the storm with God.  God has an even greater and deeper love for us and He wants us to know it and experience it on earth, at least that’s what I’ve read in the Holy Bible!  God wants to pour his love and mercy on me, but I am the one stopping Him.  He has graces showering on me every day, all day long, and I’m finally learning to keep my umbrella folded up and letting those graces pour all over me.  It is as if Mark and I were in the garden of Eden, then I listened to the snake and got wound up in fear and self-loathing, forgetting what I had learned in my God-immersion time, but now I remember, so I can return to the garden, except the garden has changed.  The garden is even better than I remembered.  The honeymoon is on its way back and I hold the key to getting there, I know the secret.  So regardless of Mark’s behavior or actions, I know better and it is up to me to lead us back to the garden, back to God.  Mark sees how I now treat him and it opens his heart to healing his stuff.  Is it fair that I have to put up with Mark’s “stuff”, treating him as Mary treats Jesus even though he is not always acting like Joseph?  No it is not fair by the world’s standards.  But by God’s standards, it is the point of living.   It is why Mark and I were brought together, to learn to die to each other, just because I figured out how to act like Mary before Mark figured out how to act like Joseph, means that I must really be Mary and be all-loving.  That is how God treated me.  He never complained to me when I was not spending time with Him, he just patiently and silently waited for me to figure it out.  He continued being God, showering me with love and mercy, as I must do with Mark.  A Catholic marriage is one in which each spouse dies to self and leads their partner to salvation.  God gave me the grace to know this first.  God gave me the grace to know that Mark will know this soon, we will be back in the garden soon.  I trust God.  I know Him and His promises.  He is my best bud, the love of my life, He keeps His Word to me.  When I am hungry He feeds me, except He gives a feast to me, not just a morsel.  His generosity is not to be outdone, so I can be generous with my love, time, and energy with Mark during the storm because I know the eventual calm will be extraordinary!  When God is first in my life this is a fact, not just a pollyanna attitude.  I am able to give thanks for the storms because I know that experiencing God’s peace in the storm prepares me to receive God’s peace at an even deeper level in the calm that follows.  I can give thanks for the storms because I know God will carry me through them, I can cast my cares to the Lord.  I can give thanks for the storms because when I give my suffering to God, He uses it to benefit others.  So God allowed the honeymoon to end because He knew I needed the storm to bring me closer to Him.  I NEVER, as recently as even a year ago, would have imaged thinking the words “God is the love of my life!” let alone having those words come out of my mouth.  Yet hear they are in my mind, in my mouth and now written on paper.  God is so smart, so good.  He knows everything.  He’s been waiting for me to know it, too.  So in every part of my relationship with Mark, I keep God’s Word, Will and Ways in the forefront of my being.  In the forefront of all I think, do and say.

Every (Devout Catholic) Woman’s Fantasy

Every (Devout Catholic) Woman’s Fantasy

by Michele (stuff747@gmail.com)

The Holy Bible clearly tells us that chastity is the way to proceed in life, in all states of life.  As a woman engaged to be married I would like to reinforce this from the experiences in my life.  Mark and I know and wholly understand the limits granted by the  Holy Catholic Church and therefore we are free.  It is the charism of a wife to help her husband get to heaven, and to even by-pass purgatory if possible.  Why would I allow Mark to sin with me or because of me?  “Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom.  The alternative is clear; either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.  Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint.  Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end.” CCC 2339.  I am not yet married and am not yet entitled the gift of marital love which is given by the grace of God when Mark and I are married.    Yet until then, we are free to express our unmarried love to each other.  Marital love is God’s wedding present to us.  Because it is a gift from God, there is no reason to worry about our wedding night when we will finally be together.  No need to read magazine articles or self-help books about how to please a woman/man.  Just do what God says about everything… relax and cast our cares to Him.  He invented love making, surely having a relaxed and open mind will make it easy for us to hear Him direct us.

Before Mark and I started dating I grew to believe that my calling was to be a Blessed Single.  (That’s the Catholic term for what our culture calls an old maid, hag, crone, or loser.)  I devoted myself to Christ and I, on my own, took a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience.  I told Mark all of this when we connected and he was happy to oblige.  As friends and now as a couple to be married, we continue to take these vows seriously.  This is where knowing what God commands, what the CCC expressly defines as sin, allows us to be free.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2337) tells us “Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.  Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman…. The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift….

This is certainly countercultural.  So Mark and I do not have to revolve our lives around sex?  Every thought, word and deed does not have to be sexual?  Sex can be reserved for marriage and be the beautiful gift that God intended it to be?  Removing sex from the dating picture, removing sex from the engagement picture, allows Mark and I to focus on what God wants and expects from us.  We are free to be ourselves, (our God-selves) whether alone or with each other.  Wow!  This is every woman’s fantasy, whether she’s a devout Catholic or not!  I want to be seen and known and loved for who I am, not what I can do for someone, even if he is my (future) husband.  Coincidentally, this is also the Will of God.  God created me and knew me before I was born. He knew me in my mother’s womb.  He knew I would be writing this today.  He knew all of this before he created the heavens and the earth.  God created me to be me.  To be the best Michele I can be.  How do I know who the best Michele is, so I can glorify Him?  He gave His Mother to me as a guide, an example to follow.  Now that I know that, it is a relief!  The pressure if off!  All I have to do is read about and study everything I can get my hands on about Mary.  And all I have to do is read and study every thing about her son as well.  I like to remember the scripture “Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

In addition to my wifely talents that I will explore in the future when I am married, God also gave other specific talents and gifts to me, as he gives to each person.  Yes, He gave me the talents I use to be a good worker at my job everyday, so I can earn money to support myself and my children as a single mom.  But it is also my job to find out what my other talents are and to use them.  To return them to Him, as Jesus described in the parable of the talents.  I am to use my talents and multiply them and return them to my heavenly Father for His glory.  How do I do this?  The way I do everything these days, I pray about it, and then I listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  I look into the longings of my heart.  I always wanted to paint, so one day I bought a bunch of canvases and paint.  Before I began to paint I attended local art shows with friends who are artists.  I read library books and saw movies about about great painters and their painting.  I learned about their techniques and what inspired them to create such beautiful works of art.  Works of art that revealed their soul and elicited deep feelings from me when I viewed their paintings.  I also went to art museums, locally and abroad, and so incorporated a second love and longing, travel.  I read and studied a few technical books about painting as well, and then I just began to paint.  Oddly enough, or not, while my daughter was attending a private art school, I sent some of my paintings with her so she could paint over them for her classes.  She did this to save some money on art supplies, but also because I no longer wanted some of the gazillion paintings I had created.  The oddly enough part is that my paintings received favorable critiques from her professors, so much so, that she gifted some of my paintings to them!

I did the same thing with photography.  I bought a 35mm camera even though digital cameras were beginning to flood the market, and after a time of study, started taking lots of photos.  Fortunately, I am very visual, so when I began traveling with my daughters I would unconsciously memorize photos that I had seen in travel books and then take similar photos when I arrived at my destination.  I have a double gazillion photographs of my daughters and our travels, as well as photographs of some seemingly mundane things.  Photography is fun, learning about photography is fun.  Traveling to fun places to take photos is fun.  Somewhere along the way I began to listen to God’s Word, to hear it with my heart and to be a doer, not just a hearer of the Word.  I delighted myself in the Lord and He gave me the desires of my heart.  My study of photography and painting has helped me to see the world through the eyes of an artist.  But I believe we are all artists if we allow ourselves to be.  These hobbies opened my eyes to really see the beauty in the world.  Not just the surface beauty, but shadows, different shades and colors.  Now when I see a particular scene or sunset, or flower, or architecturally interesting building, I do more than glance at it and say “Oh, how nice!”  Now I really study it and this increases my enjoyment of it!  This extra awareness allows me to pause and really appreciate God and His goodness.  I now remember to recognize the Creator and not just enjoy His creations.

I did the same thing with the home I bought, I made it a haven for myself (and my children) before Mark ever came along.  I created a beautiful, peaceful haven surrounded with beautiful flower gardens.  I spent time refining my cooking and baking skills by teaching my children how to cook and bake.  Fortunately they have long ago surpassed my abilities, and their husbands will be justly rewarded.  Before Mark came along I spent time at home cleaning and cooking, doing laundry and sewing and doing all of the things a mother does for her children and a wife does for her husband.  I spent time doing all the things I love to do to make my home run smoothly and I did them joyfully because ultimately everything I do, I do for God.  For God’s glory.  I did not date during this time.  After my second divorce I only dated two men in ten years.  I even backed off from automatically saying yes to my friends when they invited me to do something.  I began to pay attention to the invitations and spend time thinking about whether I wanted to spend my time, energy and money on a particular activity.  Usually, I spent time at home caring for my home, exploring my hobbies, and hanging out with my two daughters when they were available.  I chose to stay home and really enjoy the life I had at that time, trusting that I had a great future ahead of me because God has a great plan for my life, a plan not for evil, but for good.

And so I continue to delight myself in the Lord, and He gives me the desires of my heart.  Now my desires are becoming His desires.  In a perfect world I would have discovered all of this when I was two, not fifty-two!  I would have grown up and been surrounded by perfect love and spent my childhood learning to be like Jesus through His Mother Mary.  As a teenager, I would have had the strength to live in the culture of death, but not be part of it.  I would have learned to be myself.  I would never have even bothered to look at a fashion magazine, an impure movie, or read a trashy romance novel because I would have known and understood and personified Mary’s outer and inner beauty, knowing that the world has nothing to offer.  I would have known that the world has nothing to offer compared to what God has to offer, what God gives to me, what God has planned for me.  In a perfect world I would have never dated boys, but would have only developed a healthy friendship with guys and girls.  In a perfect world, worldly sex would not have been forced on me, or even mentioned, because there is no need for a child, teen or even young adult to think or even know about sex.  Upon completing college, in a perfect world, I would have begun using my talents to serve the Lord knowing that before I was even born, BEFORE THE WORLD WAS CREATED, GOD HAD CHOSEN MY SPOUSE FOR ME.  So I had no need to date, or try to find the right guy for me,  the illusive “Mr. Right”.  I would have known that God wanted me to spend my time glorifying Him, during each time of my life, during each station of my life, so that when I had prepared myself completely to me myself, to be the best me that God created, God would then present His most wonderful gift to me – my husband.  Well, by the grace of God I know this now and I hope I can share this knowledge with everyone I meet.  I want the truth to be known – God’s truth.  I hope others can learn from my experiences in the world that God’s way is the only way.  God is the way, the truth and He gave me my life.  God is the creator of all that is good and true and wonderful and pure.  God created me, so I must be good and true and wonderful and pure as well.  Please create in me a clean heart, O Lord.

God is the giver of all that is good and true and wonderful and pure. God gave Mark to me to be my husband, so why would I want to hurt God in return?  Why would I want to push God away by sinning against Him?  Why would I want to have sex outside of marriage?  That is why I read and re-read the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  I want to know what I can and can not do.  Limits provide freedom.  Freedom from the slavery of sin.  God wants Mark and I to enjoy our engagement and we are.  Sex is out of the question.  Sex, fornication, the marital act, whatever it may be called.  Sex is out.  Celibacy is in.  So where does that leave us as an engaged couple?

In a perfect world I would never have flirted with anyone, knowing that one day God would bring my husband to me and I would flirt with him. I never would have spent time thinking of any man in particular, because I would have known that God was bringing Mark.  I would not have wasted time, money or energy trying to look better or more desirable to a man, I would have known that I look perfectly beautiful being me, being Mary.  I would have known that my husband would find me perfectly attractive, and that my husband would be perfectly attractive to me.  So where does this leave us as an engaged couple?  When we are married, it will be fine for me to dress up in sexy clothes , but what about now?  After all, we are going to be married.  The key here is what is happening in the present versus what is happening in the future.  In the present we are engaged, this is the time God has set aside for us to really set our sinful ways aside.  Remember CCC 2339?  “Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom.  The alternative is clear; either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.”  Well, we want to find peace together and be happy, so we are using our period of engagement as an apprenticeship in self-mastery.  Now is the time to flirt, hug, kiss (although I have read about couples who shared their FIRST kiss on their wedding day!  How romantic!)  So if our engagement is an apprenticeship in self-mastery, our limits are set.  The more self- mastery, the more physical contact we can share out of love.  What was once meant as lust inducing in the world becomes an exercise in self-mastery.  The lesson becomes easier and easier, more and more fruitful and sin is conquered.  As Mark and I grow in our love for each other and our love for Christ.  We do NOT want to sin, or cause each other to sin.  By knowing we are not going to sin, power is taken away from the sexual act and we are free to enjoy each other.  This is where celibacy becomes foreplay.  Touching, kissing, hugging, snuggling together and holding hands remain innocent because neither of us has a hidden agenda –  to use or hurt the other, to sin or to cause the other to sin.  Our agenda is above board, open to everyone.  Our agenda is to remain pure and celibate, abstain from sex because we are not entitled to have sex until we are married, as per God’s desire and command.  Therefore we are free to purely, and innocently express our love for each other, knowing how far we be together physically.   “Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint.” CCC 2339  Because pleasing God is our intention, we are free to be together in ways that honor our Lord and our dignity.  We want nothing other than to honor God and receive His graces, His riches for each other.  Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end.” CCC 2339.  Mark and I have promised each other to help each other not to sin.  We do not want to sin because we love God.  We love the Creator over and above His creations.  And when we needed extra help, I prayed to St. Etheldreda.  Create in me a clean heart right now, O Lord!

It is my fantasy to be loved by my husband who loves all of me, all of who I am, not just one particular part, or not one part more than another.  Actually it is no longer my fantasy, it is my reality and I believe it is so because I delight myself in the Lord (spend a lot of time hanging out with Him) and He gives me the desires of my heart, which are His desires for me, for us.  It is also every wife’s dream to have her husband understand the value of foreplay.  (I am sure it will be my reality one day!) The engagement period can be used as a time to explore your future spouse’s body in a pure way.  Nibbling fingers or necks, massages, snuggling together on the couch, even somewhat passionate kisses can be part of the engagement period.  How far we go depends on “diligence and skill”.   It is not purely a physical action that causes sexual arousal, it is also what is happening in my mind.  It is my dream as a wife to be with my husband who is present with me during sex and I present with him.  I don’t want impure images in either of our heads, of course, nor do I want either of us to be thinking about some issue with work or our children or life in general.  Instead I do want each of us to be fully present in mind, body and spirit.  This means we are seeing each other, feeling the wonderful sensations and doing so in the spirit of love.  This is not to say that every sexual encounter will last for three hours, some may only last three minutes, I am certain there will be a balance.  But for now we have the engagement, celibacy or foreplay experimentation period to enjoy.  What we enjoy as a celibate couple will only add to our future marital experience and this includes being mindful.  Being present to where we are, what we are doing and who is with us.  This may sound silly, but I promise you, it is not.

Now, as an engaged couple, we are mindful of expressing love through our physical interactions, with no desire for it to blossom into a sexual act.  Being mindful is the key to foreplay, being aware of what is in my mind and Mark being aware of what is in his mind.  With this in mind, sometimes we have sleepovers.  We can sleep in the same bed, snuggled together, with no “threat” of sin looming over us.  Do we do this every night?  No?  We slept in the back of his old pickup truck under the stars last fall, watching a meteor shower as we fell asleep.  Was I worried that he would try something?  NO!  Was he worried that he could not control himself? NO!  Our love has moved from the distortion that the world calls love to pure Godly love.  We love each other, we respect each other, we love God and we do not want to hurt Him or ourselves.  So, we can platonically love each other, all the while really looking forward to the marital act, but at the right time.  For every time there is a season, or something like that.  A time to sow, a time to reap.  We are sowing seeds for a great marriage, seeds of true love, seeds of God’s love and we will reap the benefits when we are married.  We also spent a few days in a hotel room at the beach last summer.  Mark’s elderly mother and aunt love the beach, they have many happy memories of all of the time they spent at the beach throughout their lives.  They decided that they would love to get back to the beach, since neither had been there for a few years.  Because they are in their 80’s the time to go is now.  They invited Mark to take them, (they are in their 80’s, remember?), and they invited me to go, too, so that Mark and I could have some time together as well.  They booked two rooms, one for them and one for Mark.  Mark and I know that we can sleep in the same bed without having the temptation to sin, but most people, including Mark’s mother, don’t believe that.  The solution?  We invited my three year old great niece to join us and sleep in our room with us.  She was our “chaperone”, so that we could be a good example to everyone involved.  When the power of sex or the power of sin is removed, is replaced by love, it is easy to NOT sin.  We also have had sleepovers during stressful times.  What is more loving that to sleep in the arms of your beloved when you are scared or upset?  I experienced a time when painful memories were returning and it greatly affected my sleep because they seem to return just as I was falling asleep or just after I woke up.  It was comforting to be snuggled in Mark’s safe, loving arms during that time.  It helped both of us feel at peace.  It made both of us happy.  “The alternative is clear; either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.” CCC 2339

It is my vocation to prepare for my vocation as Mark’s wife.  My preparation is a balance of my devotion to Christ and serving Mark by being a good example to him and leading him toward his salvation.  Imagine what the world would be like if Eve spent more time becoming close to our Lord and less time hanging out with snakes.  Adam clearly listened to Eve, she could have led him toward God rather than away from God.  Her choice did not benefit their marriage.  As a  (future) wife, I can learn from this, Adam listened to Eve.  A husband does listen to his wife, and Mark does listen to me.  If I had not been perusing the CCC, I would never have read paragraph 2365 on conjugal fidelity and then shared it with Mark.  I want to hear Mark say to me, “Michele, I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself……  Michele, the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us…. I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you.”   I want to hear Mark say this to me knowing that I am already more than willing to say this to him right now!

Scamazon.com’s Unethical and Predatory Business Practices

Being pro-life includes respect for the Church’s social teaching in all its dimensions. Pope John Paul II’s encyclial Laborem Exercens, “On Human Work”, is rarely cited by activists, but it should be. Nor are his frequent references throughout his pontificate to “savage capitalism.” As usual, he was spot on.
Recently I received the following email from the Author’s Guild. Few people realize what Amazon.com is doing in order to corner the market.
One of their many questionable practices is allowing insufficient shipping credits to dealers, particularly on large items, and especially electronics. Often the amount Amazon reimburses to sellers is less than half of the cost, not including handling and packaging costs. This is an unethical practice that flouts common sense.
Shippers should not be forced into losing money on shipping. If Amazon wants to, that is their business. They have no right to impose such on others, except as part of their market dominance.
Amazon has done incredible damage to the book business, and in particular to authors.  When sellers call Amazon for assistance, they typically reach a Latin American country. The individuals are polite, but extremely unhelpful. When confronted about their shipping injustices, they say “build it into the price.” The problem is that you can’t know what the shipping will be, and there is too much competition to do so. What do these agents care about their customers. They are half a world away, and from a different country. There is very little sense of justice and the common good.
Their response is simply a dishonest, guileful way to hide their desire for excessive profits at the expense of their sellers.
I am going to write my Congressman, requesting anti-trust proceedings againt Amazon, and other companies, such as Ebay, which have followed in their footsteps (Ebay has adopted Amazon’s shipping credit practices, and likewise has their customer service calls routed to Latin America.)  Blockbuster has theirs go to the Phillipines.
Why is there not a law penalizing companies for this? Charity begins at home. U.S. companies can hire U.S. citizens for such services. It would improve customer service on several levels, beginning with more coherent conversations.
Sadly, none of the current Presidential candidates seems willing to get tough on corporate exploitation and white collar crime. The Catholic Church is decimated by law suits based on the misconducts of its priests, yet schools and other government institutions are immune from such, even though abuses there are every bit as repugnant. It just doesn’t get reported as much.
Corporations such as Amazon and Ebay that flout their market dominance need to be held accountable, and the executives, who typically make obscene salaries, need to be held accountable. Like Ford with the Pinto in the 1970s, corporate executives make unethical, immoral decisions, such as deliberately understating shipping credits, based on market calculations. Who is going to call them on it? Where else can one effectively do business online?
Read the following and consider a brief phone call or letter or email to your representative.Amazon, Ebay, and many other large corporations are working against the common good, for the benefit of a few. Ececutives should be held financially and legally accountable. Sadly, do any of the current politicians have the integrity to take on the corporate offenders? i won’t treat any of them as true pro-life candidates until they do. Catholics affirm life and justice and the priority of the weak from the womb to the tomb. Each of us can do our part to participate politically by requesting that our representatives enforce existing laws against corporate abuses and white collar crime, while instituting others according to emerging developments.
Amazon is for all intents and purposes a monopoly, and has sought this position. Like Walmart, they employ predatory tactics on competitors, along with questionable employee practices. We don’t have much of a choice online today, and it is time we got some, and Amazon and to a lesser extent Ebay got theirs for their abusive and unethical practices.
The following is a long and detailed essay, but worth reading. Thank you.  Email me at karlaschultz@juno.com if you have any questions.
Amazon, Innovation, and the Rewards of the Free Market
Our article from two weeks ago, Publishing’s Ecosystem on the Brink: The Backstory, and similar articles spur frequent comments online that Amazon is simply reaping the rewards of its innovation, that its growing dominance of book publishing is merely a demonstration that the free market is functioning as it should. This isn’t really what’s been happening.
Useful innovation should of course be rewarded, but we’ve long had laws in place (limits on the duration and scope of patent protections, antitrust laws, stricter regulation of industries considered natural monopolies) that aim to prevent innovators and others from capturing a market or an industry. There’s good reason for this: those who capture a market tend to be a bit rough on other participants in the market. They also tend to stop innovating.
Amazon’s first Kindle, released in November 2007, was certainly innovative, but its key breakthrough wasn’t any particular piece of technology. Sony had already commercialized e-ink display screens for handheld e-books in September 2006. (E Ink, a Cambridge company co-founded by MIT Media Lab professor Joseph Jacobson developed the displays used by both companies.) Amazon’s leap was to marry e-ink displays to another existing technology, wireless connectivity, to bring e-book shopping and downloading right to the handheld device.
Amazon’s innovation, in other words, was to untether the Sony device and put a virtual store inside it. This is no small achievement, and Jeff Bezos’s particular genius seems to be his ability to grasp the transformative potential of this sort of thing long before others do, just as he saw the potential of databases and the Internet to facilitate shopping for books and the potential for one-click shopping to ramp up online sales before most others had caught on.
Amazon’s reward for developing the wireless e-reader should have been that it would become a significant vendor of e-books and earn a profit commensurate with the value it added to the publishing ecosystem. Whether it would then continue to be a significant e-book vendor should have depended on whether it continued to innovate and provide good service to its customers. Amazon’s reward should not have included being able to combine its wireless e-reader, deep pockets, and an existing dominant position in a related, but separate, market — the online market for physical books — to prevent other vendors from entering the e-book market. Amazon’s reward as an innovator, in other words, shouldn’t be getting to wall itself off from competition.
By all appearances, this is precisely what Amazon was trying to pull off two years ago, when it removed the buy buttons from nearly every Macmillan book. Amazon removed the buy buttons for both e-books and, stunningly, print books, even though its disagreement with Macmillan was confined to the sales terms for e-books. Amazon had about 90% of the market for e-books at the time, but that market was then quite small: Macmillan could handle Amazon’s e-book blackout indefinitely. Amazon’s 75% of the online print book market, on the other hand, provided real leverage on Macmillan, and Amazon chose to use that leverage. By using its print book dominance to dictate terms in the nascent e-book market, Amazon crossed a clear, anticompetitive line.
One anticompetitive tactic in service of another
But it was even worse than that. Amazon had deployed its buy-button removal weapon before, but never so publicly, never on such a massive scale, and never (to our knowledge) as a means of shielding its ability to use a separate anticompetitive tactic: its practice of routinely selling e-books at a loss. Such practices, commonly known as predatory pricing, are a means of using superior capital resources not to innovate nor to provide better service, but to weaken or eliminate competition.
In Amazon’s hands, predatory pricing can be a particularly potent weapon. Surely no retailer in American history has had anything approaching Amazon’s database of deep, detailed, real-time market knowledge. This database eliminates the guesswork from marketing, as Amazon can run countless pricing experiments and immediately analyze the results. With this information, predatory prices can become smart bombs that are precisely targeted to maximize the sales of the latest Kindle to the most desirable categories of consumers, for example, or to maximize the losses of an incipient competitor.
… in service of a third
Predatory pricing could, in turn, help Amazon buttress its other critical barrier to entry into the e-book marketplace: its use of a proprietary e-book format, rather than the industry-standard epub format. Kindle owners would naturally be reluctant to switch to incompatible devices after they had sunk money into a personal e-library of Kindle editions. Viewed this way, Amazon’s costs incurred in selling e-books at a loss amounted to an investment in erecting walls around its young, booming e-book marketplace. The more Amazon succeeded in locking customers in to Kindle’s device and format, the less rewarding the market for any potential competitor. Amazon’s investment could pay off handsomely as the e-book market took off.
Amazon’s blackout of Macmillan’s titles came at a critical moment. Barnes & Noble, Amazon’s most significant bookselling rival, had just begun shipping its Nook e-reader the month before the blackout. The Nook was the first direct threat to Amazon’s e-book dominance, the first wireless e-ink challenger to the Kindle. Though sales of the Nook were reportedly brisk, Barnes & Noble could never hope to win a war of financial attrition with Amazon. If Amazon could compel publishers to fall in line with its predatory pricing of e-books, it could eliminate a thinly capitalized but potent (because of its physical, brick-and-mortar presence) competitor from the e-book market. It could smother Barnes & Noble’s Nook before it could pose a genuine challenge.
Amazon backed down — though not before decrying Macmillan’s “monopoly” over its books — and restored the print and e-book buy buttons. Macmillan and its thousands of authors regained access to the marketplace where 75% of online book buying transpires. The buy-button removal tactic had, for once, backfired on Amazon; the publicity over the blackout had taken a decidedly negative turn before the company changed course. Barnes & Noble would get a toehold in the e-book market, and, as we described in our last post, would turn out to be a surprisingly nimble and innovative competitor in the e-book market.
That rare setback for Amazon may yet prove to have been but a speed bump: through creative use of its capital and ever-growing market power, by compelling publishers to participate in its free book-of-the-month club for Kindle owners, by requiring public libraries to redirect their patrons to Amazon’s commercial website to borrow books for their Kindles, by starting an imprint to compete for authors now published by the largest commercial houses, and, no doubt, by countless uses of its powerful database of consumer behavior, Amazon continues to tighten its grip on the book industry. Its ambitions haven’t scaled back, and Barnes & Noble, still in the game (in no small part because of its success with the Nook), remains its most significant impediment.
We aren’t Barnes & Noble’s champions, or at least we aren’t their champions by choice. We’d favor a far more diverse and robust retail landscape for books, and we encourage all readers to patronize their local bookstores as they would their farmers’ markets or any other businesses that enrich the quality of life in their towns and neighborhoods. But here’s where we are: Barnes & Noble is book publishing’s sole remaining substantial firewall. Without it, browsing in a bookstore would become a thing of the past for much of the country, and we would largely lose the most important means for new literary voices to be discovered.
A truly competitive, open market has no indispensable player that can call the shots. The book publishing industry has such a player, and Amazon is poised and by all appearances eager to use its muscle to rip up the remaining physical infrastructure of book retailing and the vital book-browsing ecosystem it supports.
If Amazon succeeds, the free market will have had little to do with it.
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