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Ink Slingers Marriage Motherhood NFP and contraceptives Vocations

The Cross of Infertility

hospital 1

“So, when are you going to have kids?”

It’s one of the most awkward questions I encounter and one of the most stressful, frustrating, and tear-inducing. It’s a question asked by well-meaning and caring relatives, friends that don’t know any better, friendly parishioners I know and by nosy busy-body parishioners I don’t know. And while I’m pretty good at hiding and dealing with my emotions, I still don’t know what to say to people when they ask that question, even after 6 ½ years of marriage.

Why?

Because my husband and I are in the midst of infertility struggles. Somehow, fertility struggles such as miscarriage and infertility are on the list of “taboo topics” to discuss openly and honestly within our Catholic faith and in society at-large. Plus, many times honest responses are full of emotion, making the topic difficult to talk about.

In a faith that values the preciousness and sanctity of every human life, a faith that rejoices and celebrates in the creation of new life, a faith that encourages procreation of new little souls with God, there’s not too much said if there are difficulties in getting pregnant or maintaining a pregnancy. People don’t know what to do (or not to do), or what to say (or not to say), to someone in these situations. Fertility and infertility are extremely personal. And for most, extremely private. And yet infertility and fertility problems are much more common than we often realize. There’s a good chance you know several people struggling with them.

What is Infertility?

Infertility is typically defined as the inability to conceive within one year, or not being able to carry a child to live birth. Woman who are able to get pregnant, but have miscarriages, are also considered to be infertile. Infertility can come in two ways: Primary, which is when you haven’t been able to have any children; and secondary, which is when you have been able to have at least one child.screenshot_2016-09-19-02-28-53

Infertility is often a silent, lonely, stressful, frustrating and tear-inducing cross. It can be an agonizing cross to couples who long to have children, and especially to those that have always wanted a large family like my husband and me. It can be a doubly-difficult cross when you’re Catholic, as having children is a typical expectation within the faith community. As with all crosses, it can be a positive experience or a negative experience. And most often, it’s a little bit of both. It is a cross that many woman AND men carry: 

  • Infertility is a disease that results in the abnormal functioning of the male or female reproductive system.
  • Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse (or 6 months if a women is over the age of 35) and/or the inability to carry a pregnancy to live birth.
  • 1 in 8 couples (or 12% of married women) have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy (so there’s a good chance you know multiple people struggling to have children).
  • Infertility is not always a woman’s problem. Both women and men can have problems that cause infertility. About 1/3 of fertility issues are a result of a women’s problem, 1/3 of fertility issues are a result of a man’s problems and the other 1/3 are caused by a mixture of male and female issues or cannot be explained medically. 
  • Approximately 44% of women with infertility seek medical assistance. Of those, 65% give birth. (The birthrate numbers are higher with NaProTechnology, but NaProTechnology can’t resolves all medical issues or unexplained infertility.)
    Information from Resolve.org

 

screenshot_2016-09-19-02-29-16The Cross of Infertility

Much of the time in dealing with the cross of infertility, I have been blessed to have a spirit of joy, patience, peace and trust in God’s plan. But it would be misleading of me not to admit that at times I struggle to have hope, to have joy, to have patience, to have peace and to have trust in God’s plan through this process and with this cross. There have been priests who have scolded me for confessing my frustrations with God; friends who have off-handedly mentioned they forget to invite my husband and I to hang out because we don’t have kids for their kids to play with. There have been acquaintances who have asked extremely personal questions, family members who have offered to be surrogates, and there have been numerous doctors appointments, blood work appointments, medications, surgeries and dietary changes.

The cross of infertility can be stressful, frustrating and painful. It can be emotionally, mentally, socially and spiritually draining; and yet it is a cross given from Christ not as punishment but with a purpose. It is an opportunity to unite to Christ on the cross. I have had the joy (and yes, I do mean joy) of offering up the difficulties, the pain, the frustrations, the emotions and more to God for many purposes and people throughout these past few years. No, it doesn’t take away the pain and difficulty, but it does provide a purpose for the cross.

– – – – – – – – – – – –
If you or someone you know is dealing with infertility, the Catholic medical group Pope Paul VI Institute has done extensive research and work in the field of fertility and infertility resulting in NaProTechnology (Natural Procreative Technology).

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Bible Books Faith Formation Ink Slingers Lent Michelle Reviews Spiritual Growth

The Last Days of Jesus: His Life and Times

last days of Jesus
When I was first contacted about reviewing the book The Last Days of Jesus: His Life and Times, I jumped at the chance.  I was surprised to hear that it was written by Bill O’Reilly. In fact, I had a thought that perhaps it wasn’t the same Bill O’Reilly that I was thinking about; that surely there was a different Bill O’Reilly writing about Jesus.  But, as it turned out, it was indeed the same Bill O’Reilly that I had in mind. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. But, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and read his book. I’m so glad I did.

The Last Days of Jesus: His Life and Times takes a very thorough and historical look at not only the times that Christ lived in, but at how His last days took place. However, intertwined with the historical facts and settings, thought-provoking and interesting pictures, as well as a lesson in Jewish tradition, we find a beautiful narrative that retells the biblical stories we are familiar with covering the years of Jesus’ ministry and leading up to His Passion upon the cross and the days that followed.  As I read, I couldn’t help but smell the fragrant oils that mixed with Mary Magdala’s tears as she washed Jesus’ feet. I couldn’t help but imagine the dusty roads that He and His followers would travel upon and feel the warm summer sun upon my face. I felt the intensity of Judas Iscariot’s stare as he watched Jesus talk about their Passover plans. I could hear Christ cry out in pain as He is scourged by the Roman “death squad”. And I felt Christ’s agony as His crucifixion and death upon the cross were presented in a very real way; one that takes a simple view of the crucifixion and instead replaces it with a clear picture of the torture and pain that Jesus went through to save us from our sins.

When I had finished the book, I had a much greater appreciation for the man who was called Jesus. Often when we read the bible we do so with the knowledge that Christ was both God and man. And while The Last Days of Jesus: His Life and Times presents Christ in this manner, it does so in a way where we can connect with the very human nature that was present alongside of the very Godly nature that encompassed Jesus’ being. All my life I have been taught these stories and yet this book presents them in a very human way. By the time I was done reading, I felt like I knew another side of not only Jesus, but all of His disciples as well.

As we move closer to Christ’s Passion, I urge you to read this book. It will provide you with a greater appreciation for Jesus’ tremendous sacrifice on the cross, it will help you understand our Jewish roots, and it will show you what great risks the early Christians went through to become followers of Christ. You will feel a connection to Christ that you have never felt before.  If you are looking to feed your faith and grow closer to Christ this Lent, I highly recommend reading The Last Days of Jesus: His Life and Times by Bill O’Reilly.

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Amy M. Crafts Domestic Church Ink Slingers Lent Liturgical Year Spiritual Growth

Making Sacrifices Real

Growing up we gave up something each year for Lent – cookies, junk food, sweets, a particular candy.  As soon as our children were old enough, we started each Lent discussing what each person would be giving up during Lent.  We write them all down in order to keep ourselves accountable.

As they have gotten older, we have changed our focus and tried to teach about sacrifice in other aspects of our lives as well.  Lent is a time of repentance, to help us grow in our faith, to grow closer to Jesus.  We try to become better people, by giving up something that hinders our relationship with God – fighting with each other is one that comes up often.  I still had a nagging desire to make the season of Lent more real, less about rules to follow and more about growing spiritually.  I want my children to understand that aspect of Lent NOW, not just down the road.  Let’s face it – for a child it is hard to connect, “I can’t have that cookie because I gave it up for Lent” to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, His 40 days in the desert or growing closer to Him by our sacrifices, physical, mental, spiritual or emotional.

As others begin decorating for Easter and spring as soon as Valentine’s Day is over, we look to simplify, purging our lives of bad habits, quieting the busyness at least a little to focus more on our relationship with our Lord, hopefully forming better prayer and faith habits that will carry into the rest of the year.  The decorating for Easter happens during the Easter season, but not before we have refocus both as a family and individually.  Our pastor often says during Advent that anyone can get to December 25th, but only those who prepare will make it to Christmas.  Applying this thought to Easter, we want to DO Lent, not just arrive at Easter Sunday the same people who started at Ash Wednesday.

Last year at school they began to focus more on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.  We wanted a way to make these works more real to all of us, so that we could see how they apply in our everyday lives.  I came across an idea and decided to try something similar at home.  It is called a “Mercy Cross.”  Everyone liked the idea, and we have decided to make it a tradition.  We will continue with our other traditions of sacrifice and family prayer and meditation.  The Mercy Cross helps us to see how our actions unite us with Christ on the cross.

We make a cross out of construction paper on our front window.  This way, it is a focal point of our home and family time, and it can be seen from outside so that others can see a sign of our faith.  On either side we tape up the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.  Each time someone does something that is a sacrifice or one of the works of mercy, he or she puts a flower on the cross.  The goal is to cover the cross in flowers by Easter.

By covering the cross with flowers, we can all see a physical representation of living the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.  We can see how they apply in everyday life and how no sacrifice is too small, especially when done with love.  Covering the cross with flowers is like sharing in Christ’s sacrifice for us.  We can all make sacrifices in His love.

As Blessed Mother Theresa said, “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.”

Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me. Matthew 25:40

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Conversion Fasting HHS mandate Lynne Offering your suffering Prayer Year of Faith

Fasting for Freedom

 

It’s the Christmas season: a time of feasting that we anticipate all year.  As much as I want to savor this time, I find myself preoccupied with more penitential thoughts.

Just as God guilted me into praying the rosary, He’s been using His relentless, persistent tactics to convince me of the need for a change in my life.  Rightly is He called the “Hound of Heaven”. After several months of evasion, I finally realize that I can’t run away from Him any longer.  I’m being called to fast.

Fasting is not something I’ve ever been good at.  In fact, I’ve never been able to fast in any meaningful way.  Two smaller meals and one regular meal, offered up a measly two days a year, don’t help me feel especially accomplished in the art.  Outside of Lent, I’ve often considered fasting for a particular intention, only to give up the idea at the sight of a Hershey bar.  The mental conversation goes like this:

Self 1: “A Hershey bar!  Just when I decide to fast!”

Self 2:  “What?  You may never see one of these again!  Eat it.  How is giving up a Hershey bar going to help anyone anyway?”

Self 1:  “But I am fasting….”

Self 2:  “Ha–like you’ll stick with it.  Quit kidding yourself.  You just want to lose weight.”

Self 1:  “It would be a nice bonus….”

Self 2:  “Aha!  You have selfish motives!  The whole fast is useless. ‘Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!’”

And just like that, my fast is over—rationalized away before I begin.

Another complicating factor in my fasts: food is an obsession for me.  More accurately, food is an addiction.  Unlike the alcoholic, I can’t simply abstain; I have to eat to live.  The problem is that I function at the opposite end of the spectrum: I live to eat.

After twenty years as an adult, I stumbled upon the idea that every food is not problematic—only carbohydrates.  Pooh-pooh all you want, but I can personally attest (as can AnnMarie) that when I quit eating carbohydrates, my thoughts about food change.  I no longer nosh all day, sneak food in secret, or eat whole jars of peanut butter with bags of chocolate chips mixed in.  The evil little monkey on my back goes away and leaves me in peace.

Of course, I fall.  I get off track and binge like crazy.  And I hate it.  I hate the gluttonous, out-of-control, shoving-food-down-the-gullet-without-tasting-it maniac that I become.  But most of the time I don’t hate it enough to walk away.  So I spin in the vortex for a while, down and down, until I can manage to break free again.

I have also come to terms with the fact that my son has an addiction, too.  He is addicted to pornography.  It’s a battle he has fought since age twelve.   While he lived at home, we could help filter his life.  Now, as a freshman in college, he swims in a sea of it.  Like me, he has managed to walk away and stay “clean” for a while, but ultimately finds himself drawn in again.  Sex, like food, is everywhere.

I’ve prayed for my son—prayed, cried and prayed again.  But what I haven’t been able to do is fast for him.  Only in the last year have I begun to see a link between my son’s addiction and my own.  I have always looked upon his sin as worse than mine, but how different are we?  Pornography is a twisting of the precious gift of our sexuality.  My food obsession, too, is a twisting of the goods that God has given.  (Dieters can even look at “food porn” online—graphic images of forbidden delicacies, intended to stimulate and tantalize).  Both pornography and food addiction represent a warped, disordered misuse of things that are objectively good—things that God has given us to sustain and enrich life.  My son and I aren’t so different after all.  I can’t help but think: if I could give up my addiction, as a fast for my son, how powerful would that be?

It may sound bizarre, but I feel that God has given me a unique opportunity to help my son, to do him a service that no one else can.  It is as though we share a strange, supernatural bond, and I have recourse to special aid by virtue of our common sin.  If only I (by God’s grace) can manage to break free of my chains, I can help set him free in the process.  It’s like a scene from a science fiction movie—but I know that in the communion of saints, it’s possible.

Moses fasted for the sins of the faithless Israelite people, begging God’s mercy for them (Exodus 34).  So did the prophet Daniel (Daniel 9).  The Israelites fasted for deliverance (1 Samuel 7; Nehemiah 9), as did the people of Nineveh (Jonah 3).  Jesus himself told his apostles that some demons are subdued only “by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29).

Pope Paul VI, in the 1966 apostolic constitution Paenitemini (On Fast and Abstinence) wrote:“… mortification aims at the ‘liberation’ of man, who often finds himself, because of concupiscence, almost chained by his own senses. Through ‘corporal fasting’ man regains strength and the ‘wound inflicted on the dignity of our nature by intemperance is cured by the medicine of a salutary abstinence.’”  To put it simply, for those consumed by addiction, fasting is a powerful antidote.

Fr. Rich Simon’s, host of Relevant Radio’s Go Ask Your Father, put the Holy Father’s thoughts into more common language, explaining that in our world we are “enslaved” by many things.  Fasting opposes this slavery.  With fasting, we actively, consciously, choose to forego that which we desire.  Thus we are not mastered by our desires, but willfully master them by saying “no” to self.  Fasting, when coupled with prayer, is a hammer striking at the chains that bind us in sin.  As Fr. Rich says, “Fasting is about freedom”.

Of course all this fasting is still theoretical for me.  I haven’t actually done any fasting.  In fact, as is typical, I have been leery to commit myself to it without a very clear sign from above.  I keep hoping to look down and find this:

But as I was writing, God generously gave me the confirmation I craved.  It turns out that our bishops have issued a Call To Prayer For Life, Marriage, And Religious Liberty.  It is a request for “prayer, penance, and sacrifice for the sake of renewing a culture of life, marriage, and religious liberty in our country.”

I’m no genius, but even I can recognize that my son, a well-formed Catholic young man with much good to offer the world, is a prime target in the spiritual battle that rages in our world.  He has an important role to fulfill in the culture of life—as a husband, father, and community leader—and the sanctity of his vocation is under attack.  The bishops are not asking me to fast for a theoretical soldier in a culture war far, far away.  They are asking me to fast for my son.  They are asking me to strike a blow for the culture of life by working to exorcise pornography from the life of one young man—my young man.  Our culture is renewed not through mighty deeds and acts of Congress, but by me being faithful to my personal call, doing my small acts, changing my own life and family in little ways.  I can’t be Joan of Arc.  But maybe I can be St. Therese.

The bishops call to prayer has five components—including fasting and abstinence from meat on Fridays.  The fast begins on December 30, 2012 (the Feast of the Holy Family) and lasts until November 24, 2013 (the feast of Christ the King).  For a complete outline of the Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty, visit the USCCB website.

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Faith Formation Ink Slingers Misty

Why the Cross?

One of the hardest group of people to evangelize to Catholicism isn’t atheists, but agnostics. Atheists, after all, at least start out believing in objective truth; they firmly believe that objectively,  there is no God. Harder to pin down are agnostics, who may or may not believe in God and may or may not believe he’s part of our lives if He does exist.

There’s another type of agnostic, though, and that’s the person who yearns to believe, but struggles to embrace the seemingly grotesque truth about our faith: that God donned humanity, grew up among us, and then allowed himself to be tortured to death to redeem us. All so we have the chance to be with him for eternity after death. This truth, which is second-nature to the believer, is a lot to swallow, especially if you didn’t grow up in a Christian family. I remember sitting in RCIA a decade ago as our priest explained these things to me. I thought then, “Wow! Who needs drugs when you can just trip on this mind-blowing Catholic stuff?”

Then about a year ago, my husband and I had an agnostic friend ask us two questions, which reminded me again of my time in RCIA:

1. Why couldn’t God forgive humans without subjecting an innocent person (Jesus) to horrific suffering?

2. If a price had to be paid for all the bad things humans ever did in the past, present, and future, why would the death and suffering of one being be enough to pay for so many sins?

In other words, “Why the Cross?”

Could God have forgiven us without subjecting Jesus to the Cross? Of course. And though we can’t know all the reasons God elected to redeem humanity this way, we can guess at a few good reasons he thought this was the perfect way to accomplish redemption.

The primary reason, undoubtedly, was to show us his great love for us: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” In our culture, we bandy about the word “love,” but there are different kinds of love. There is sexual love (eros), family love (storge), and brotherly love (philos). The highest form of love is self-sacrificial love, or agape. This is the highest and most perfect expression of love.

To show us what agape is, Jesus gave his own life to redeem us. Agape requires self-sacrifice; there is simply no way you can say you love someone but not be willing to sacrifice for their benefit. People try, but we intuitively sense that love is properly and most fully expressed through actions, not words.

Could God have just infused the knowledge of his love for us into our minds? Yes. But by entering the steam of time, living as one of us, and giving us the perfect example of agape on the Cross, he enables us to freely choose to believe—or not. God is the consummate gentleman and he will not force himself on anyone. If he “beamed” the truth into our brains or wrote it across the sky, our free will would arguably be overwhelmed and diminished. The Cross, while strongly compelling, enables us to accept the truth or not. To accept his love or not.

As for why it had to be graphic and extreme…keep in mind that although God used Jesus’s suffering and death to accomplish redemption, the Cross was not HIS instrument of torture—it was ours. To ask why God “had to” subject Jesus to that suffering forgets that humans were ultimately culpable for Christ’s torture and death. God may have chosen to accomplish redemption through this suffering, but it doesn’t mean he’s responsible for it.

There could be many reasons why God chose to accomplish redemption through such a gory, hideous event:

  1. For God to take on a body, then have that body tortured, conveys that he shares our suffering, our loneliness.

Compassion means “to suffer with.” It’s an enormous comfort to know that no matter what I suffer in life, I can go to Jesus (God) and he will have compassion for me because he himself endured it, too. How many of us feel closest to the friend who has shared our suffering? Or conversely, feels bereft and lonely when we realize someone without our particular experience just does not “get” what we’ve endured?

2. The Cross conveys the strength of God’s love for us, to see him innocently suffer and die that way.

Say you are sentenced to die and a person steps forward to take your place. This alone would express agape for you. But that love would be conveyed more forcefully if the person volunteered for a particularly gruesome death. If he took your place in front of a firing squad, he loves you. If he takes your place on a cross, he really loves you. If he takes your place on a cross after a full day of extreme torture, he REALLY loves you. See the difference?

3. The torture and death of Jesus symbolize the horror of sin and that truth could not be conveyed symbolically through a more palatable event.

We hear of suffering all over the world and we weep for the victims of sin, especially those who are victimized by others’ sin. But the horror we see in this world, as hideous and dark as it is, is still but a veneer of the true spiritual ravages of sin.

In the book, Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans, author Malachi Martin describes a priest who had been sent by the bishop to exorcise another priest. The possessed priest had opened himself to demonic influence by participating in New Age practices. The exorcist, however, suffered his own doubts about the faith; he fancied himself an intellectual and over time, had decided the Church was wrong about this or that. Jesus said if the blind lead the blind, they’ll both fall into a pit. Which is why the exorcist soon found himself fighting off his own possession.

The description in the book is the perfect example of how little we understand the true horror of sin. To the other people in the room, the exorcist appeared to be a priest on his knees, praying fervently. Yet his soul was engaged in the most horrific, agonizing conflict with the demon. He suffered profound spiritual pain and anguish as the demon tortured him with his lack of faith and pride. The priest ultimately fought off the possession, but not without unimaginable spiritual scars.

In his mercy, God and his holy angels protect us from the most profound consequences of sin in this life. It can be easy to become casual about our sin–until we look at the Cross. And not the sanitized versions that hang in our churches, but Jesus as we saw him in The Passion: an innocent man beaten, tortured, humiliated, and nailed to a tree out of human apathy, envy, and hatred. Even that grisly Cross, however, did not fully represent the horror of what Jesus endured because of our sins.

But really, how could just one death–even Christ’s grisly, torturous murder–pay the penalty for all sins for all time? It has to do with dignity: When we offend God, we offend a being whose dignity is beyond measure. Think about the difference between kicking a dog and kicking a person. Which has the greater dignity? Consequently, which offense would require more to make amends and satisfy justice? The greater the dignity of the person we offend, the greater penalty justice demands to set that offense to rights. Our laws reflect this, which is why we have stiffer penalties for someone who murders a person versus killing an animal (abortion excepted, of course).

Not only does God have an immeasurable, incomparable dignity, but he’s infinite. Thus, justice would demand that we make infinite amends to God. The best way to look at this is to imagine that when we offend God, we offend a person who goes on forever, for all eternity.

How could we ever be finished making amends if God never ends? This is why only God himself–Jesus–could truly pay the penalty for human sin. We are finite creatures without the ability to truly make satisfaction for offending the infinite God. Jesus, however, possesses both a human and a divine nature.

What we saw happen on the Cross represents a mere shadow, a powerful but still ultimately weak symbol, if you will, of the suffering Christ took on to atone for the sins of all mankind. If you’ve ever endured grief, you know what I mean. Externally, friends and loved ones see a grieving person whose tear-stained, wrecked face conveys her sorrow. But spiritually, they cannot begin to comprehend the depths of your pain. It was the same on the Cross: As terrible as it was, the physical pain Our Lord endured paled in comparison to the overwhelming spiritual horror of sin he took on himself to redeem us.

The human part of Christ naturally feared the pain he would endure during his Passion and death. But it wasn’t just the physical pain he endured that made the infinite satisfaction necessary to reconcile us to God, but also the spiritual pain he endured when his divine nature made infinite atonement for our sins.

*****

Each time you look at the Cross, remember: Our Lord endured unimaginable physical and spiritual pain because he loves you immeasurably. Why the Cross? One word: love. As Catholic convert Scott Hahn said so beautifully, “Jesus paid a debt he didn’t owe, because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.”