Examining my conscience

Hi there! It’s been very quiet around here. I’ve had lots of ideas floating around, but some of them haven’t fitted into the remit of this blog (i.e. not related to being in a mixed marriage). I’ve been contemplating whether to slightly readjust the premise of the blog to make room for a wider variety of topics – whilst still keeping the original theme the main thread – but I haven’t quite figured out how to do so. I’m praying on it! Meanwhile, I wanted to share something that I’ve found incredibly helpful, and I hope it will be for you, too.

Seeing as how I can’t get to Confession at the moment, I decided to do a proper Examination of Conscience and make a “spiritual Confession”, as it were, on Divine Mercy Sunday.  Although I always try to do an examination of conscience before going to Confession, I admit that I often don’t give as much time to it as I ought. So, this time I wanted to really set aside some time for it.

I remembered that on the Laudate app (free! highly recommended!) is an Examination of Conscience, and when I opened the app I realised that, even better, there’s one designed specifically for those whose vocation is marriage. The Examination is broken into various categories, one of which is something like “duties towards your spouse.” Now, without going into details… This was *definitely* the area where most of my sins occurred. The app is designed so that you check boxes, and at the end it provides you with a list of *your* sins.

It was quite a shocking realisation. I mean, I tend to think I’m a reasonably good wife 😛 But seeing these sins written out, unemotionally, disentangled from my particular marital issues… It made me realise that I leave a lot to be desired. A LOT. And it is also a very helpful starting point to try to do better going forward.

Pretty much anybody who has ever had a marital conflict has likely thought, at some point, that it’s mainly the other person’s fault. Why can’t they just do things the way I’m suggesting?! Is it really so hard?? But for Catholics married to non-Catholics, we may go a step further and attribute their ‘failings’ to their lack of Catholic faith. “If only they were also Catholic,” we think, “then they would be a better spouse.”

Oy. Way to fail to see the log in our own eyes! As Catholic wives or husbands, it is absolutely our job to start by doing the very best we can ourselves. And you know what the list made me realise? That my husband is doing *at least* as good a job of being a “good Catholic spouse” as I am, without even thinking about it.

I’m planning to make this Examination a weekly practise, and I invite you to do the same. Let’s strive to be the best Catholic spouses that we can be, before we think of ruminating on our spouse’s shortcomings.

When NFP… isn’t (NFP Awareness Week)

It’s NFP Awareness Week. For years – since before I became Catholic – I’ve been reading blog and Instagram posts by Catholic women (it’s always women) about the struggles, blessings, disappointments, and gratitude that come with practising NFP within a marriage. Some of these women experience hyperfertility and have struggled to space babies as they’d like. Others have used it to try to conceive, without success. And there are the couples for whom it seems to work perfectly, to space when necessary and conceive when desired.

But what about those of us whose spouses aren’t Catholic? What does NFP mean for us?

Of course, I can only speak for myself. However, I rather suspect that there are many of us who are afraid to share our stories, worried that we will be judged or rebuked. And perhaps we will, but I am a firm believer that when we vulnerably share the parts of our story that we prefer to keep in the shadows, we are better able to connect with pretty much everyone.

So I’m just going to come out and say it: we don’t use NFP in our marriage. I wish we did. I pray that we will one day. Right now, though, we don’t.*

You see, for a while we did – in a way, at least (I’ll clarify what I mean by that in a minute). I explained to my husband why it was important to me, and he agreed that he was willing to try it and see if it “worked.” However, it would seem that I am on the very fertile end of the spectrum, and I fell pregnant twice during the few months that we tried it (one pregnancy ended in miscarriage, and the other was the baby I’m pregnant with now). This didn’t exactly fill my husband with confidence in the method, and the subject ended up putting a lot of pressure on our relationship.

I consulted a priest (a very orthodox, FSSP priest, fwiw) who provided me with wise and gentle counsel. He told me that I must pray sincerely for a change in heart for my husband, and that I should ask the Holy Spirit to guide me as to when to raise the topic with him again. I must not be the active user of artificial contraception, i.e. take the pill, get an IUD, etc. But if I’m doing these things, with a sincere desire to practise NFP, then my main duty is to nurture my marriage. I’m not “off the hook”, per se, but he advised me that if I keep doing the things mentioned, then I am not obliged to bring this to Confession every time (although, I usually do).

What did I mean when I say we used it “in a way”? As all well-formed Catholics know, NFP is about much more than the absence of artificial contraception. It’s about openness to life,  three-way communion between you, your spouse, and God, and an ongoing state of discernment. So although we went through a phase where we did not use artificial contraception, these other elements were impossible. They require both spouses to be committed to their faith, and to have trust in God. And my husband doesn’t.

You see, it’s easy enough to explain to a non-Catholic (or non-practising Catholic) why hormonal birth control is bad. There’s science to back it up, and secular culture is increasingly critical of it. However, it is much harder to explain the problem with barrier methods. To someone who doesn’t believe in NFP, there is nothing wrong with a couple simply deciding month-by-month whether or not they want to get pregnant, and deciding whether or not to contracept accordingly; there is no problem with postponing pregnancy simply because you don’t feel like having another baby yet (or ever).

Openness to life requires an understanding of your vocation to marriage that is meaningless without a true belief that God is calling each of us to sainthood. Discernment means you must be praying daily as individuals and, ideally, as a couple, to see what God is asking of you. And don’t get me wrong – I am blessed to have a pretty good communicator for a husband, and we talk openly and regularly about what we think our family life should like today, next week, next month, in a year, in a decade. You don’t need me to tell you, though, that these conversations cannot take the same shape that they would if we both had active prayer lives.

I could go on about this for another 1000 words, but I’ll stop here. I want you to know that if NFP isn’t a part of your marriage but you wish it were, then you are not alone. And if NFP is a part of your marriage and you think any Catholics who don’t use it are doomed to Hell… well, pray for us, before you condemn us. It’s likely breaking our hearts.

 

*Right now I’m pregnant, so it’s somewhat irrelevant. If I weren’t though, and once the baby is born, then NFP isn’t our reality unless a miracle happens.

Catholic marriage envy

I think we all have sins that we know we’re guilty of, that we bring to Confession again and again – gossip, anger, judgement. But we also have sins that we think don’t apply to us, that we have never struggled with. For me, one of those is envy. I’ve never really envied the wealth or beauty or intellect of others – not because I’m totally happy with my own performance in these areas, but because any insecurities I have do not manifest themselves in the cardinal sin of envy.

Or… so I thought. I realised recently that I am guilty of envy. I’m guilty of envying people with ‘perfect’ Catholic marriages. I look at their blogs or Instagrams and think, “Why not me, God? Why can’t I have a faith filled marriage?” And then I start telling myself that maybe those couples aren’t as happy as they look. Maybe they suffer in areas of their marriage that I do not. Maybe it’s all show.

And maybe I’m right. But that’s the danger of envy, and why it’s so bad for our souls. It makes us whine to God, “Why can’t I have that? What you have given me isn’t enough!” And then we start wishing bad things on other people, hoping that their blessings aren’t really so much greater than ours as we perceive.

This is something I’m working on. Now that I’ve recognised that I am, in fact, guilty of envy (and pride to boot, for thinking that I was above envy!), I need to figure out how to combat it. Perhaps I need to unfollow certain accounts on social media, or say a prayer of blessing for anyone I have uncharitable thoughts toward. Furthermore, I need to focus on gratitude for a life which is, in fact, abundantly blessed. I offer a decade of the rosary each day for my marriage, but from time to time, I say it in thanksgiving for the gift of marriage, for my loving husband, for my beautiful daughter.

Envy is ugly, and it feels horrible. It makes us feel like stroppy children who aren’t satisfied with their offering of birthday gifts. God doesn’t want us to feel that way about our marriages; He wants us to rejoice in the gift of our spouses, to pray for them, and enjoy His gift to us! Yes, matrimony is meant to sanctify us, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t also meant to enjoy it. I think us Catholics forget that sometimes – that although redemptive suffering is a beautiful dimension of our faith, it isn’t the only one. God also meets us in joy and thanksgiving, and above all, in love.

Get ye to Confession! (with a good confessor)

We’ve probably all had good and bad Confessions. For me, a bad Confession is when the priest just listens to you reeling off your sins, and offers you no input other than your penance (which was actually also forgotten once). I know that I am still absolved of my sins and that’s what matters, but let’s be honest… that isn’t usually all that we want. We want some advice, some guidance in how to overcome our sins and grow in holiness.

I have been to Confession a few times at my local parish, but it was always as described above. I left feeling frustrated that I was none the wiser on how to work through some of the sins that I repeatedly have to confess, and that the priest didn’t seem to think they really mattered. So I knew I had to find somewhere else for Confession.

There’s a Latin Mass parish not so far from me, so I decided to try there. Although I am not a TLM devotee, I imagined that the priests there might be more ‘involved’ confessors. I was right.

When married to someone who does not share your Catholic faith, there are certain marital issues that come up time and time again. The Catholic theology of marriage and the body is unique and beautiful and one of the most wonderful teachings the Church has to offer the world… but it’s VERY counter-cultural, and tends not to go down well with anyone who did not receive good Catholic formation.

As such, I have ended up in the confessional with the same sins time and time again. I have never received good guidance about them, until yesterday. Whilst I will not disclose the details of the conversation in the confessional, the priest reassured me that as long as I am praying about these issues and broaching them with my husband when the time feels right, then I need not feel the burden of the sins. He encouraged me to come back to Confession as often as necessary to work through the issues.

I left with such peace. I am not absolved of responsibility; through prayer and perseverance, I must try to lead my husband towards the Church’s understanding of marriage and sexuality. But if I can honestly sit before God having done everything in my power to live the Church’s teachings in my marriage, then I can be absolved of my sins.