It’s been a rough week, to say the least. 7 Quick Takes is supposed to be lighthearted (or at least not a downer), so it’s been hard to get in the mood to write with all that’s going on. I tried to get a 7QT up last week, but posted a rather cynical observation about the news media instead.
Cynicism kills the mood even more than tragedy. There is a meme going around on the internet about how to maintain hope in a tragedy.
But cynicism is the polar opposite of this. If looking at the helpers reminds us of the good in humanity, cynicism focuses on the bad. And you can’t be in a good mood when you are dwelling on the worst aspects of people.
But life goes on, no matter what happens around the world.
My older daughter is having her first communion this Saturday. She is doing it with her old CCD class instead of her new Parochial School class because she’s been with the CCD class all year and the school doesn’t do first communion until May. Last Sunday, she had her first communion retreat.
I’m not quite sure what it was all about, but she did get to make her first communion banner. The retreat was full of the same “Kumbaya Catholicism” that I grew up with in the 1980s, but that may be normal for second graders. My mother, on the other hand, was raised pre-Vatican II and the nuns told her all her Protestant relatives, including her mother, were going to hell. She largely ignored them, but her younger sister (my Aunt) was deeply disturbed by this and has since left the Church. Bad catechesis is nothing new, but better bored than traumatized, I say.
After talking to the other parents about the retreat, I’m pretty sure the best part for the adults is that attending the retreat probably means three hours less in purgatory.
One of the activities at the retreat was to bake “Happiness Bread”. The children had a simple recipe for unleavened bread (Or as one of the second graders called the lumpy creation, “Uneven bread”.) Each table had a few of the ingredients to make the bread so they had to share their ingredients with the other tables, which was the point of the exercise. Unfortunately, there were a few more ingredients than the recipe called for, which made me wonder about the recipe.
The bread was baked and it was time to share. Before the blessing, my daughter asked “Does blessed bread taste better than unblessed bread?”
The director of religious education explained that blessing the bread doesn’t change how it tastes, but it changes what it means.
Note: I’m pretty sure this exercise was unintentionally somewhat heretical, giving the second graders an incorrect understanding of the theology of the Eucharist and the Priesthood, but at this point, I was just ready to get it over with and go home.
This answer isn’t good enough for my daughter. Being her mother’s child, she has to experiment to know for sure. Before the blessing, she sneaks a taste of the unblessed bread. Then she eats a few bites of the bread after it was blessed.
The bread tasted more like heavy cardboard stock than anything I would call bread. No one could choke down more than a few bites of the “happiness bread”.
On the way home, she shared the results of her “experiment”: “Daddy, unblessed bread tastes better than blessed bread! It tastes sweeter. When you bless the bread, all the sweetness goes away.”
I don’t think that’s what the retreat was supposed to be teaching… Happiness bread gets a Jesus facepalm.
Other highlights from the retreat:
Seven year old boy during communion practice: “The wine tastes yucky.”
Dad: “Ever since Fr. _____ left, they started buying really cheap wine.”
My daughter really liked the wine. I don’t know if that’s a good sign or not…
The party was very informative. I answered a couple questions and was able to get a lot of questions answered myself. One particular question had been bothering me for quite some time.
Our own experience and from what I have read of that of others who have struggled with NFP, most of the problems couples have with NFP come from a combination of (1) a poor understanding of fertility or (2) an overly legalistic, rules-based view of Catholic teaching.
Sometimes the poor understanding comes from using a method that looks at the wrong signs for a particular woman. Unfortunately, sometimes instructors think their way is the “only way” and don’t refer couples out when a method isn’t working for them. This happened to us with the Creighton Model: Our FCP tried to help us get the method to work even after it should have been clear that another method might be better.
Sometimes, teachers were not always well-trained and couldn’t answer couples’ questions about difficult situations like breastfeeding or unusual cycles. This was our experience with CCL: The teaching couple was nice, but they couldn’t help us. Plus, the materials they used at the time (2006) were in desperate need of an update, especially their postpartum section. I have heard good things about the new CCL materials and courses, but I have no experience with them myself.
The good news is that the “new generation” of NFP promoters seems to be moving past the old problems. While a generation ago, nearly everyone who used NFP was a conservative Catholic, today many women are looking to NFP as a healthy, natural alternative to hormonal contraception. The NFP community is more scientific and less sectarian than it was in the past.
Second, the generation who discovered the various methods of NFP are leaving the scene. The Drs. Billings have died, the Kippleys are in their 70s, and Dr. Hilgers is almost as old. Given the amount of research that these people have put into developing their methods and the thousands of couples they worked with, it is understandable that each one of them would think that their method is the best method of understanding fertility for every woman at all times. The younger generation doesn’t have quite the personal attachment to their methods as the original pioneers and is more interested in finding a method that works for a couple than a once size fits all solution. There was an overwhelming agreement among ALL participants that the “NFP wars” that pitted the methods against each other had to end.
The other problem that couples have is that if they take an overly legalistic, rule-based view of Catholic teaching on sexuality, they will chafe against the rules and resent them.
Pope Benedict XVI warned about presenting Christianity as “a series of prohibitions”, but this has been common over the years. “Rule-based” Catholicism was especially common among American Catholics catechized before Pre-Vatican II. As the NFP community was made up of more conservative Catholics, such thinking persisted in this community longer than it did in the general Catholic population. False ideas about sexuality and about sin and grace were depressingly common in some circles of the NFP community.
Yet another twitter discussion led me to realize just how I somehow managed to be exposed to all forms of bad Catholic catechesis. I somehow managed to be exposed to Kumbaya Catholicism, Pre-Vatican II legalism, and ex-Calvinists with a Catechism, all while completely missing what the Church actually teaches.
I haven’t written much lately on either blog. I have plenty of ideas for posts, but no time to develop them into full posts. I have learned a lot about the meaning of marriage and of sex and how society views it from the various gay marriage discussions as well as a conversation about why so many young people aren’t getting married. My political position is still the same: I support civil unions for gay couples and see the difference between “civil marriage” and “civil union” as one of semantics, but it has made me think about what sex and marriage mean in society. The discussion has confirmed my belief that gay marriage is more about how straight couples see marriage than about gay rights.
I will probably post a 2-3 part series on this either here or on the other blog.
I also read some excellent articles about spotting cults, a strange fear of pregnancy, what real beauty means, what sex is really like (as opposed to various cultural myths), an EPIC takedown of the idea some Protestants have that wives should be subordinate to husbands by Arleen Spenceley, and the top 10 cliches among young Catholics. I’ll probably be posting about these later.
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